Former Burbank supt. falls to death

Burbank school officials said they were shocked and saddened to learn that former Supt. Kevin Jolly had fallen to his death from a 255-foot bridge on Friday in Northern California, where he had taken over a troubled school district just a few weeks prior.

Jolly reportedly fell off the Confusion Hill Bridge on Friday, falling to his death to the Eel River below from a height of more than a 20-story building.

Numerous calls made to Mendocino County sheriff's and coroner's officials went unreturned on Tuesday. But in a statement made to local media there, sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb said Jolly's vehicle was also found Friday near the Confusion Hill tourist site in Piercy, launching the search that eventually discovered his body.

In an e-mail, Smallcomb said no further details would be available pending the outcome of a coroner's investigation.

The bridge has been open for little more than a year, said Phil Frisbie, Jr., a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation.

At 255 feet, the bridge is a few feet taller than the Golden Gate Bridge, Frisbie added.

Concrete safety barriers were built on both sides of the Confusion Hill Bridge to make sure vehicles couldn't slide off the roadway, Frisbie said. A 54-inch tall metal fence was also installed to secure pedestrians and cyclists, he added.

"It's high enough to provide safety for pedestrians walking on the surface of the roadway or bicyclists riding on the highway," Frisbie said.

Jolly is the first person known to have fallen or jumped from the bridge, he said.

Doug Campbell, owner of a tourist attraction near the bridge, said Jolly didn't interact with anyone before he fell to his death.

Area residents, he said, have been buzzing about the circumstances surrounding Jolly's death.

The bridge has been the subject of concern for some locals who suspected that someone would one day leap from it, Campbell said.

"It was saddening, but everybody here locally was always thinking somebody was going to jump off it," he said.

Authorities have declined to comment on whether Jolly jumped or fell from the bridge, despite the roughly 4 1/2-foot pedestrian barrier.

Jolly had started his new position as superintendent of Round Valley Unified School District on July 1.

The district had has been operating under state and county oversight due to its troubled finances and student performance. It was a demanding job, but one that fitted Jolly's strengths, officials said.

"That district had real challenges and Kevin was the kind of guy to shake it up and get it moving in the right direction," said Larry Applebaum, a Burbank Unified board member who was president when Jolly was hired last May. "It seemed to me, the perfect kind of place for him to land was a challenge."

Jolly's last day in Burbank Unified was June 30.

His family could not be reached for comment, but are staying with extended family in Sacramento, school officials said. Jolly leaves behind eight children — the youngest is 2-years-old, while the eldest will be a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara.

In the wake of his death, Burbank Unified will mostly serve as a conduit to Mendocino County, passing along donations and cards to Jolly's family, Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa said.

Round Valley Unified is a rural community outside Covelo, and covers Native American reservations. Of the district's 435 students, 417 were on free or reduced lunches, a poverty indicator, according to the most recent figures from the California Department of Education.

And while the district's accountability test scores have improved, its results on state exams are far below the benchmark.

"It is an extremely challenging district," said Paul Tinchin, the superintendent of Mendocino County Office of Education, which oversees the district operations.

Jolly was an avid biker and runner, and colleagues said he had nothing negative to say about his new position, officials said.

In the roughly three-month transition between Burbank superintendents, Carrizosa said Jolly was always gracious and deferential in their meetings.

Applebaum said he spoke to Jolly last month and he seemed confident about current job prospects.

In Round Valley Unified, meetings are underway to appoint an interim superintendent, Tinchin said.

"He was an individual who was very committed to students and improving student performance," he said. "We'll miss the energy that Jolly brought to working in that community."

Jason Wells contributed to this report.

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