Daniel Victor Jones (April 15, 1958 – April 30, 1998) was an American man who committed suicide on a Los Angeles freeway in 1998. The incident is well known, as his suicide was broadcast on live television by news helicopters. Jones committed suicide as a form of protest towards HMOs, after being diagnosed as HIV-positive. Footage of his suicide was shown in the 2002 documentary film, Bowling for Columbine.
Jones was born on April 15, 1958. He worked as a maintenance worker at the Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach, California, a job he had had since 1995. He lived in a small two-bedroom bungalow off an alleyway in Long Beach. He lived alone with his pet dog Gladdis.
By April 1998, Jones was suffering from both HIV and cancer. His neighbors and fellow workers were unaware that he had any health problems. Jones confided to a friend in early April that he had found a flesh-colored growth on his neck. The doctors at first were unsure of its cause, but later confirmed that it was cancer. Jones believed he was getting the runaround from his health insurer and also told his best friend that he was HIV-positive.
On Thursday, April 30, 1998, around 3:00 p.m., Jones parked his dark gray Toyota pickup truck on the transition loop from the Harbor Freeway to the Century Freeway in Los Angeles (). Jones sat in the front of his truck with his pet dog Gladdis, a seven-year-old Labrador-whippet mixed-breed. Jones began pointing a loaded shotgun at passing cars on the freeway, causing motorists to report him to the police. Jones himself then called 9-1-1, revealing he was emotionally distraught about HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and the circumstances surrounding his HIV. Jones said he was in pain due to mistreatment by the HMO in whose care he had been placed. As was confirmed later, aside from being HIV-positive, Jones also suffered from cancer. During the call, he fired off several rounds from his shotgun, with one of them going through the roof of his truck. Authorities then closed the two freeways, preventing anyone from approaching him. Jones remained in his truck the entire time, as police helicopters monitored his movements. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Special Weapons Team began to assemble and got into position around him. Jones then reached into a backpack he owned and took out clothing and a videotape. He then began throwing the items over the freeway wall. Afterwards, he got out of the truck and walked across the empty freeway.
Jones then unfurled a large, square banner with white hand-lettering that read: "HMO's are in it for the money!! Live free, love safe or die." Jones had made the banner specifically for the occasion and displayed it for the news helicopters to see. As it was pretty windy on the interstate at the time, Jones weighted the banner down with a container to stop it blowing away. Jones continued to make obscene gestures and returned to his truck several times to pet his dog. This was all broadcast on live television by news helicopters recording the event live. As it was a Thursday afternoon, it was witnessed by many children, whose after-school cartoons had been interrupted in order to broadcast the incident. As authorities prepared to negotiate with him, Jones suddenly returned to his truck and sat in the front seat. Intending to take his own life, Jones ignited a Molotov cocktail inside his truck. The vehicle suddenly burst into flames and was set ablaze. Jones got out of the vehicle however and ran across the freeway as he was engulfed in flames and smoke, with his hair, pants and socks all on fire. Jones tried to pat out the flames, managing to peel off his pants, socks and underwear. He continued to wander about, naked from the waist, looking dazed and disoriented. He then walked to the edge of the freeway gesturing angrily. It appeared as if he was about to jump off the freeway, however, he changed his mind and backed away from the edge, before returning to his ablaze truck. Moments later, at around 3:50 p.m., he retrieved his shotgun from the back of the truck and then walked back across the freeway. He placed the shotgun beneath his chin, pulled the trigger and committed suicide. He then fell to the ground with the cameras still rolling and playing the event live to viewers watching at home. Jones died at the age of forty, roughly two weeks after his birthday.
The stand-off between Jones and the police had lasted close to fifty minutes. Police were concerned that there was a bomb or multiple boobie traps still inside the truck. Because of this, they hesitated to move in. The truck meanwhile continued to burn with the dog still trapped inside it. Jones' body remained splayed out in the middle of the freeway with his own blood all around him. Eventually police approached the truck and searched the inside of it. They found the remnants of several Molotov cocktails, a number of shotgun shells and the charred remains of Jones' pet dog, which had perished in the fire. Because Jones' suicide was witnessed by children, this led many to criticize Los Angeles television stations' practice of airing police pursuits live. KNBC issued an apology saying, "We did not anticipate this man's actions in time to cut away, and we deeply regret that any of our viewers saw this tragedy on our air." The station, as well as the Fox Broadcasting affiliate, offered viewers numbers they could call for counseling.
During the stand-off, Jones had thrown a videotape over the freeway wall. When recovered by the authorities, who viewed the video, it was discovered that it was effectively a videotaped suicide note recorded by Jones on the previous day. In the video, Jones sat on his couch next to his dog Gladdis and said "I'm not going to fight the disease. It has affected my neurological system. I'm not going to end up crazy." A police source who viewed the video said that Jones complained he was in pain. The videotape explained Jones' motivations and laid blame for his suicide. Jones reportedly says in the video, "I'm a dead man," and signs off by declaring, "See ya!".
In popular culture
As the event was filmed, the footage of Jones' suicide has been shown in many documentaries outlining the incident. Most famously, it appeared in Michael Moore's 2002 documentary film, Bowling for Columbine. It was also featured in the shockumentary film series, Traces of Death, and appeared as the opening clip in the Banned! In America shockumentary film series. Since then it has been uploaded onto shock sites such as LiveLeak.