Bridges' fall: German TV crew films in Cape

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shawn Bridges abused methamphetamine for almost 20 years. Those years of hard living have left him in the state he's in today -- confined to a hospital bed in his father's living room, his body ruined and his life slowly slipping away because of the deadly and addictive drug.

Such horror stories have become all too familiar in the United States, where meth use runs rampant.

But not in Germany. Not yet.

That's why ARD, Germany's national television broadcasting consortium, sent a crew of TV journalists to Bridges' Cape Girardeau home on Monday. ARD -- roughly the German equivalent of U.S. public broadcaster PBS -- wants to warn German viewers of the real dangers of meth. ARD, when translated, stands for Consortium of public-law broadcasting institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The not-for-profit, state-funded ARD sent a German correspondent, cameraman and sound technician, along with an American-born producer, to the home of Bridges' father where Shawn Bridges lives. The crew, which works at ARD's Washington bureau, spent most of the day Monday interviewing his family and friends about the perils of meth abuse.

"You rarely have the opportunity to show the audience where this all leads to," said ARD correspondent Christine Adelhardt. "We want to show Germany how bad it can get. Pictures impress people. People in Germany don't know it is this bad."

Meth is just starting to invade Europe, said Adelhardt, who has worked for ARD since 1993 and at the Washington bureau since 2004. Heroin is the big drug of choice there, but meth is becoming increasingly popular, since it doesn't have to be brought in from other countries and can be made in people's homes, Adelhardt said.

"We do have meth there," Adelhardt said. "It's a growing problem. We wanted them to see what happens. Look at Shawn: He's 34, he's no longer able to talk. It's our duty to let people know this is what happens."

Susan Shand, the American producer, said Bridges will only be part of their 10-minute piece for a news show that is similar to "Nightline." Today, they plan to travel to Franklin County to talk to law enforcement officials there about how police fight meth. The piece is scheduled to air in about 20 million German homes in June, she said.

Today, ARD is considered to be one of the most powerful television and radio broadcasting organizations in Europe. Shand said it is the second largest in the world, behind only BBC, the British Broadcasting Corp.

Missouri was selected as a centerpiece for the story because of its aggressive laws, such as the one that last year moved products containing pseudoephedrine -- a key meth ingredient -- behind pharmacy counters, Shand said. Shand learned that the new restrictions caused the presence of meth labs in Missouri to decline by 46 percent.

"So Missouri seemed like a good place for us to go," she said.

Shand learned about Bridges after she did preliminary research on the Internet. She watched a recent documentary about Bridges that was made by Chip Rossetti, a TV cameraman for WSIL, the ABC affiliate in Carterville, Ill.

She contacted Rossetti about using footage from the documentary. Instead, he offered to arrange an interview.

Rossetti said that Bridges, who no longer communicates well, once told him that he wanted his story out there so that others wouldn't make the mistakes he made.

"First and foremost: This is Shawn's story," Rossetti said. "We've wanted to find a way to get the story as much exposure as possible. So when I got the call, I thought it was great. Hopefully now, people all over the world can hear Shawn's story and learn from it."

Jack Bridges, Shawn's father, said his son's heart has been badly damaged by meth. He's had two heart attacks. His lungs are deteriorating. Bridges requires constant care, including a daily visit from a home-care nurse. Several of his family members acknowledged that Shawn is dying, although they all hold out hope for a miracle.

Barring that, they hope Shawn's redemption will come in the form of helping others.

"We want to get his story out tastefully and as far as possible," Jack Bridges said. "We want other people everywhere to see what can happen."

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