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the vertical net jumper barrierotherwise known as a fence.
|after decades of nothing being done and years of "it can't be done!", something is being done. perhaps there will be no more jumpers and we can end this website.|
|03.10.21: Skyway bridge suicide barrier may finally stop the ripples of loss|
03.10.21, tampabay.com, A fisherman saw Mitchell Martin plunge to his death. He stayed with the body, said a prayer and now has forged a connection with the Martin family.
By Tony Marrero
Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, resources are available to help. Please see the information at the end of this story.
On a sunny August evening, Mitchell Martin parked a Chevy pickup on the shoulder at the top of the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
The 25-year-old Martin was living with his girlfriend and her mother in Lake Worth, on Florida’s Atlantic coast some 200 miles away. He had borrowed the mother’s truck and driven across the state to one of Tampa Bay’s most recognizable landmarks.
It’s unclear how long he sat inside the truck, but after he got out, he didn’t linger. Someone in a passing car saw Martin walk to the waist-high concrete barrier wall and jump.
Martin’s plunge triggered a grim process that has played out hundreds of times since the Skyway opened more than three decades ago.
The Florida Highway Patrol and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation. A fire rescue boat set off to recover the body. Authorities called loved ones, then visited Martin’s mother in Texas to make the official notification of his death.
The Skyway ranks among the worst bridges in the nation for suicides. Now, a project designed to prevent them is finally underway.
A contractor for the Florida Department of Transportation has started work to install steel netting along a roughly mile-and-a-half stretch of the bridge. Officials expect the $3.4 million project to be complete by summer, after a delay blamed on the pandemic.
If successful, the barrier also will stop the waves of impact that ripple from each jump. Witnesses are haunted by seeing people leap from the bridge or crash into Tampa Bay below. First responders collect broken bodies from the water. Loved ones mourn and wonder why the state hasn’t done more to keep people from jumping.
"I am so glad that it’s going up, and I wish it would have been up a lot sooner," said Megan Martin, Mitchell’s sister. "This pain, this grief, this loss, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody."
• Jeb Bush hears calls for action.
The bridge connects Pinellas and Manatee counties and has attracted people bent on suicide since the 1960s, when a previous Sunshine Skyway spanned Tampa Bay. Records show suicides began to increase after the current bridge, with its yellow steel cables forming twin triangles visible for miles, opened in 1987.
As the death toll mounted, calls grew louder for the state to take action.
Transportation officials gave various reasons why a vertical barrier or horizontal netting under the bridge would cause problems. They would add weight and wind resistance and block the boom trucks used to inspect and repair the underside of the bridge. They would mar the minimalist aesthetics of a bridge that is as beautiful as it is deadly.
After nearly two dozen suicides in 1998 and 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush asked state transportation officials to consider safety nets or fences. In a recent email to the Tampa Bay Times, Bush said he got involved at the request of the late Barbara Wilcox, then chairwoman of the board of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
"I recall we placed several phones on the bridge, and it had a positive impact," Bush said.
The six phones, installed in 1999, connected directly to the Crisis Center’s suicide hotline. Later, transportation officials contracted with the Highway Patrol to increase patrols on the bridge. Troopers rush to the top of the bridge when staffers monitoring traffic cameras spot someone who appears about to jump.
Those measures worked to some degree.
But Highway Patrol records show more than 250 people have died since 1987 by jumping from the bridge, officially known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway after the former Florida governor and U.S. senator. The number of suicides and saves each year has generally trended upward, especially in the last decade. The year 2018 saw a record 18 suicides.
Many more people have been intercepted over the years by law enforcement officers who arrive in time.
Highway Patrol Cpl. Tabarie Sullivan remembers both kinds of calls.
• Saves and misses at 200 feet.
On a clear day in January 2019, Sullivan arrived at the top of the bridge to find a shirtless man sitting on the barrier, one leg dangling over the water some 200 feet below. He wore a ball cap and peered at Sullivan through wraparound sunglasses.
A 28-year-old traffic homicide investigator, Sullivan volunteers for the Skyway patrol. He knew he’d be responding to calls like this one, trying to stop someone before they jump.
He asked the man not to do it, told him he had more to live for. No, I don’t, the man replied. He said an injunction was keeping him from his wife and kids. He said he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior and was prepared to die.
Sullivan thought to himself, I cannot let that happen.
A few minutes later, when the man swung his dangling leg back onto the road, Sullivan made a move, jumping on him and pinning him to the pavement. The man was later taken into protective custody under the state’s Baker Act.
Before dawn on another shift, Sullivan responded to a call about an abandoned vehicle near the top of the bridge and spotted a woman walking on the shoulder. When the woman saw Sullivan, she started running toward the top.
Sullivan chased and tackled her. She began to sob as traffic roared by them in the darkness.
"I just held on for dear life until other responding units could arrive," he recalled.
Sullivan said he has intercepted about 10 people since he started working the Skyway detail about three years ago.
"It takes a lot out of you mentally," he said. "When I come into contact with someone who decides to hold on just a little longer, there’s no better feeling than that, to be able to get them help."
In other cases, Sullivan and his colleagues arrive too late. They find an empty car, sometimes with a note inside. Troopers call for search and rescue boats. They reach out to friends and family, starting an investigation that usually is turned over to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction.
Sullivan said he’s glad the barrier is going up.
"If it saves lives, that means fewer loved ones I’m contacting, delivering the worst of the worst news."
• A fisherman’s life is changed.
He’s not sure why, but he felt compelled to go.
A 41-year-old cardiac dialysis nurse, Kindt grew up boating and fishing in the Skyway’s shadow. As a kid, he and his friends rode their bikes on the bridge while it was still under construction.
Kindt knew the Skyway was a suicide magnet, but he didn’t like the idea of a fence or net. He didn’t want something that blocked the view from the bridge or took away from its distinctive appearance. He figured if someone was determined to die, they’d find a way if they didn’t get professional help, as he did for his own depression.
On that August day, Kindt considered bringing his 13-year-old daughter but decided to take only his shepherd-hound mix, Koogie. He launched his 18-foot Shallow Sport flats boat from Maximo Park, near the Skyway’s northern approach, and motored toward the bridge.
Kindt was fishing from the back of the boat as it bobbed under the bridge when he heard a scream and then a noise "like a bomb going off next to me."
He turned in time to see something hit the water about 50 feet away, creating a splash that shot high into the air. Moments later, he realized what had happened. He called 911 and maneuvered his boat closer.
The person was floating face down and appeared to be a man wearing a red shirt and black pants. Kindt could tell he was dead, and a swift current was quickly pulling the body toward the Gulf of Mexico. He knew if he didn’t keep the man in sight until authorities arrived, the body might never be found.
Bystanders like Kindt have reported for decades how they cannot get the experience out of their mind. Many find their way to skywaybridge.com, a website that has tracked Skyway suicide attempts since 1998. On the site and associated Facebook page, witnesses tell their stories, explain how helpless they felt. Sometimes, family members and friends of the person who died share insight into the victims’ lives.
As Kindt worked to keep the man’s body near his boat in the waning daylight, he felt some relief. If the man had landed on him, he’d probably be dead, too. But mostly, he felt sympathy. He wondered what had been going on in the man’s life. He said a prayer.
"I prayed that his family would be able to mourn appropriately and go through the stages of grief, because some people get stuck in denial or anger," he said.
A St. Petersburg Fire Rescue boat arrived about a half-hour later. Kindt watched as crew members pulled the body onto the boat.
Kindt’s family knew something was wrong when he got home.
"I told my daughter, ‘I’m glad you didn’t go out on the boat because you wouldn’t have been a child anymore,’ " he said. When she asked what he meant, he told her and his wife what he’d seen.
Later, as she searched for information about the person who jumped that day, Margarita Kindt stumbled onto skywaybridge.com and saw a photo of a baby-faced young man.
The name accompanying the photo: Mitchell Martin.
• Answering the grim call-out.
Skyway suicide attempts typically start out as a water rescue call, and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue is usually the first to respond.
A crew from Station 11 rushes to O’Neill’s Marina near Maximo Park and launches a fire-engine-red Boston Whaler. People have survived and been pulled from the water, but the calls usually turn into a recovery mission, said Lt. Steve Lawrence, a spokesman for the department.
"It’s hard on the firefighters to see somebody who decided to end their own life," Lawrence said. "We’re always trying to help, and that’s one situation where we can’t."
Retrieving the bodies is important, though, he said.
"That’s part of the healing process. It helps the family with closure."
Helping to bring that closure has resonated with Eckerd College’s search and rescue team for years.
As part of the only college maritime rescue team in the country, student volunteers have responded to Skyway jump calls since the 1970s. They average about 10 a year, said Ryan Dilkey, the college’s associate director of waterfront, who runs the team. Dilkey joined the team as a student in 1994.
Some days, Andrew Kindt feels a pull to the water. Aug. 3, 2020, was one of those days.
The sun was shining, but the winds were up on Tampa Bay, making for less than ideal boating conditions. Kindt’s wife, Margarita, suggested he stay home.
When a 911 call arrives, the team speeds to the bridge in one of four boats docked at Eckerd’s waterfront campus, just west of Maximo Park. The team’s customized search pattern, created by Dilkey and two of his colleagues, has delivered consistent success in locating bodies. In other cases, the team retrieves bodies from boaters who stopped to help.
For many students, the grim task is their first encounter with death in the field, Dilkey said. Students are taught there aren’t right or wrong ways to react. They’re trained in "stress first aid," a set of tools developed by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to help rescue personnel recover after traumatic calls.
Some recover just fine, Dilkey said. For others, the process takes more time.
Though the calls have provided valuable real-world experience over the years, Dilkey said the team was glad to hear about the new suicide prevention barrier.
"I would be happy," he said, "to not respond to these as much as we do."
• Questions linger for family.
The first of three children, Mitchell Martin was born in Fort Lauderdale and was about 7 when his mother Robin split with her husband and moved with her kids to Texas.
Mitchell was generous and compassionate, said his sister Megan, 19, who lives with Robin in The Woodlands, a community north of Houston.
"He was a very selfless person," she said. "He loved and cared for anybody, no matter what. That’s just how he was since he was a kid."
But he also struggled with depression, his family said. After graduating from high school, Mitchell tried to join the U.S. Army but injured his knee repelling from a tower during basic training. It was a blow to his self-esteem, Robin said. He worked as a shoe store manager when he was living with Robin near Galveston but lost the job after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area in 2017. He started spending more time on his Xbox.
In 2019, Mitchell moved to Tampa and lived with a friend for a few months. Later that year, he moved in with his girlfriend and her mother in Lake Worth, south of West Palm Beach.
He talked on the phone often with his mother and Megan. He said he got a job at Publix, but they learned later that wasn’t true. He said he would go to therapy but never did. He described his relationship with his girlfriend as volatile.
One day, he asked his mother to fly him home to Texas. Robin said no, thinking he needed to figure things out for himself.
"And I have to live with that for the rest of my life," she said. "Now I’ll always wonder, if I would have brought him home, would he be fine? Would I still have him?"
In a phone call a few days before his death, Megan said, Mitchell told her he planned to get a place with some friends. He talked to his sister and mother again Aug. 2. He sounded okay — a sign, his mother now believes, that he had already decided to take his own life.
The next day, at the top of the Skyway, a state trooper searched the cab of the pickup and found Mitchell’s cell phone in the center console, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.
The phone’s map application was open and showed a route from a Punta Gorda gas station directly to the Skyway.
• Pandemic delays barriers.
Had all gone according to the state Transportation Department’s plan, the barrier likely would have been at least partially erected by the time Mitchell Martin arrived at the bridge that day.
The Tampa Bay Times first reported in January 2020 that the department had decided to install a barrier. Stainless steel, diamond-patterned netting resembling chicken wire would be attached to poles that extend straight up from the existing cement wall, creating an obstacle that will be nearly 11 feet high and, officials say, difficult to climb. The netting will extend on the northbound and southbound spans to a point where the bridge is roughly 50 feet above the water.
The state switched to larger boom trucks in recent years to repair and inspect the bridge, enabling crews to work around a vertical barrier, officials have said. Transportation officials say the lightweight barrier won’t create much wind resistance, block the breathtaking views or sully the bridge’s architectural splendor.
Nationwide, other bridges with high numbers of suicides are also getting barriers designed to stop them. Crews are adding horizontal netting to the vertical fence along San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, where some 1,700 people have jumped to their deaths. Vertical fencing went up in 2011 at the Aurora Bridge in Seattle and momentum is building for protections at the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.
Last March, Florida gave the Skyway job to Tarpon Springs-based Southern Road and Bridge and approved a completion date in November. But the pandemic delayed the delivery of fencing materials from overseas, pushing back the start date.
Finally, in late January, workers started drilling holes for the poles in the concrete walls. Installation of the steel netting should begin this month, said Kris Carson, a spokeswoman for the department.
The contractor has 120 days to complete the project, not including time lost for inclement weather.
Carson said the crisis phones will remain in place after the barrier is complete, and the department will continue the Highway Patrol contract.
Among those who welcome the barrier are staff members at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, said chief executive officer Clara Reynolds. The center receives about 10 Skyway calls per year, and counselors have been able to keep people on the phone until law enforcement can arrive, Reynolds said.
Marked by a raging (ha!) pandemic that has stolen loved ones and livelihoods and confined people to their homes, 2020 seemed primed to be another record year for Skyway suicides. But that didn’t happen. Florida Highway Patrol records show at least seven suicides last year; skywaybridge.com put the number at 10, about half the 2018 number. Reynolds said the center did not see an uptick in calls from the bridge in 2020.
Removing the bridge as a means to that end is progress, but only one step in addressing a national suicide epidemic, Reynolds said.
"We’re hopeful we can get the message out that the pain is absolutely real, it’s meaningful and it’s hurting you, but there’s help available," she said. "Treatment is effective and the easiest way to start is just to pick up the phone."
• Families united by grief.
A day or two after her brother’s death, Megan Martin got a Facebook message from a woman she didn’t know. Her name was Margarita Kindt.
Kindt had seen comments Megan made about her brother on the Facebook page of skywaybridge.com. In her message, Kindt said her husband was there the day Mitchell jumped and he stayed with his body.
Robin Martin was driving to Tampa to collect her son’s remains when she first spoke by phone with Andy Kindt. They talked again later over FaceTime.
Robin told him how much comfort it gave her to know someone prayed for her son right after his death, and how grateful the family was that Mitchell’s body was recovered. Robin keeps some of his ashes in a teardrop-shaped necklace and had some mixed into the ink for a tattoo on her chest of two fingerprints forming a heart. Megan placed some in a heart-shaped container and had it sewn into a teddy bear.
Kindt learned more about the troubled stranger, and the experience made him shift his perspective on a suicide barrier along the bridge.
"I feel like he was very much like me when I was his age," Kindt said.
The Martin family is left to wonder why Mitchell, who would have turned 26 on March 11, decided to end his life and why he chose the Skyway. Robin said she feels a mix of relief and anger over the barrier finally going up, too late to stop her son. She acknowledges he might have found another way to end his life, but maybe not.
"We put locks on guns, we put special caps on our pills and lock them away," she said. "There’s all these laws in place for all these different means, it just seems like if you build something like that bridge, there should be a responsibility."
About a month after Mitchell’s death, another man jumped and died. Then another person in December, and still another in January. Last month, according to the Highway Patrol, an 18-year-old woman jumped and survived.
"I wish he’d been the last one," Robin said. "I don’t want more families to hurt like we hurt."
• Need help?
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1.
Metal posts are going in along the Sunshine Skyway bridge to support a fence of steel netting that's designed to prevent suicides. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
|02.22.21: construction has begun.|
|10.16.20: suicide prevention barrier construction delayed by pandemic.|
10.16.20, tampabay.com, by Tony Marrero,
The Florida Department of Transportation now hopes to start construction next month, pushing the completion date into the spring.
If all had gone according to plan, the long-awaited barrier to prevent suicides on the Sunshine Skyway would be nearly finished by now. But it’s mid-October, and the project that state officials expected be complete around Thanksgiving hasn’t started yet.
The coronavirus pandemic bears some blame, delaying delivery of stainless steel materials required for the project, said sate department of transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson.
"Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, acquisition times have increased," Carson said in an email.
Now officials expect the contractor, Tarpon Springs-based Southern Road and Bridge, to begin construction next month. The four-month construction timetable would put the completion date sometime in early spring.
The Tampa Bay Times first reported in January that the transportation department would erect steel netting along a roughly mile and a half stretch of the Skyway. The netting will extend vertically 8 feet from the top of the bridge’s concrete barriers, making it difficult for would-be jumpers to climb over them and fall some 200 feet into the waters of Tampa Bay.
The transportation department awarded the contract to Southern Road and Bridge in March, giving the company 120 days to complete the project, not including days lost for inclement weather. The estimated completion date at the time was Nov. 27.
About the same time the contract was awarded, the coronavirus pandemic began disrupting global production and supply chains. Carson said the department worked with the contractor to find alternate sources for the materials, but the lead times for delivery were still longer than expected.
The barrier will be composed of several parts that are manufactured overseas. The square steel posts are made in India. The wire netting and other post components are made in China, and the base and mounting plate is manufactured in Sweden. The components will be welded into final configuration by a local fabrication shop, Carson said.
Many of the components are shipping through ports in China and India. Some are on the way but as of this week none had arrived.
The goal of the project is to remove the Skyway from the ranks of the top four deadliest bridges in America, officials have said. Proponents of a barrier have for years called for some sort of deterrent on the bridge to prevent people from jumping 200 feet to their deaths.
Despite measures such as increased law enforcement patrols and more surveillance cameras, the number of suicides has ticked upward in recent years. In 2018, a record 18 people died after jumping from the bridge, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol recorded 12 suicides from the bridge last year and 15 attempts.
Though the pandemic has brought a surge of depression and anxiety to Tampa Bay, 2020 is on pace to see fewer Skyway suicides. A review of Highway Patrol records shows six (correction: 9) suicides and seven attempts since Jan. 1, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the agency.
Rob Rivard of Tampa was among those wondering what was going on with the project.
After his stepson Chris jumped from the bridge in 2018, Rivard became one of the most active proponents of the barrier, lobbying a number of elected officials for a barrier including Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. Rivard recently contacted DeSantis' office to get an update and learned about the construction delay from a Times reporter on Friday.
He said he’s glad to hear the department is still moving forward with the barrier.
"My concern was that they would reroute the money," Rivard said. "As long as they get it done, that’s what’s important to me."
|project - start: early 2021 • completion: summer 2021|
|05.21.20: construction set to begin on Skyway Bridge suicide barrier.|
05.21.20, wfla.com, TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and in Tampa Bay, there is a place where hundreds have chosen to end their life.
Florida will finally take action to safeguard the Sunshine Skyway Bridge starting next month.
Robert Irons is a proud father of a daughter that he describes as beautiful, outgoing and very smart. He has many good memories of Melanie – who was loved by so many – and one bad memory that breaks his heart.
Robert was in Walmart in December of 2018 when his phone rang. It was Melanie, calling from the Skyway Bridge. She told Robert that she had "done a lot of things wrong."
He knew she needed help right away.
So Robert raced to her rescue and saw her truck at the top of the bridge. They made eye contact.
"I wasn’t but maybe 25 to 30 feet from her. She popped out of the truck and never even hesitated. She went over the wall," he said. "I can still picture her face and her arms, holding onto the wall and then she went over it."
Melanie fell to her death like too many before.
"If there would have been a fence, a barrier or something, I could have got my hands onto her," said Robert.
He says he still sees his daughter every time he goes across the bridge.
Construction will begin in June on a $3 million suicide barrier. The barrier will be made up of a vertical stainless steel net extending 8 feet above the concrete barriers on both sides of the bridge. It will stretch on for about a mile and a half.
Finally, there will be something on the bridge to prevent – or at the very least slow down – a troubled soul’s impulse to jump.
"I think the family that will be helped will be very happy that it will save their loved one from making a mistake like my daughter did," Robert said. "It was a mistake. She had people who loved her."
Florida currently has a trooper assigned to patrol the Skyway 24-7 and signs are placed on the bridge encouraging people to call for help.
But, what took so long to install a barrier?
The Florida Department of Transportation told 8 On Your Side that netting would have precluded the use of equipment needed to inspect and maintain the bridge in years past. But technological advances have now made it possible to install the skyway vertical net.
It is scheduled to be in place in September, a few months before the second anniversary of Melanie’s death.
If you are thinking about taking your life, take a minute and call 211. It’s a 24-hour hotline, just for you. It puts you in touch with someone at the Crisis Center of Tampa
|01.14.20: widow, crisis center hopeful barrier will prevent skyway bridge jumps|
01.14.20, baynews9.com, MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Debbie Korell flips through her wedding album, remembering her husband Todd.
"We got married at home right in front of our fire place," she said. "So in order to get from the wedding to the reception, all we had to do was turn in a circle in the living room."
Only pictures are left now. On March 10, 2010 (correction: 03.13.10), Todd got up in the middle of the night, drove to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and jumped.
"We had such a fabulous life together. And that’s why I don’t understand why he chose to want to end it," Korell said.
According to our partners at the Tampa Bay Times, nearly 250 (correction: over 300 at the time of this article.) people have taken their own lives by jumping off the Skyway Bridge.
"Anything and everything that we can do to deter people from jumping from the bridge should be done, and should have been done a long time ago," Korell said.
And now it is.
The Florida Department of Transportation announced last week plans to move forward with a $3 million project to add suicide prevention netting along the sides of the bridge.
It’s a decision mental health professionals are applauding, saying it will open up an important conversation.
"The more that we can teach our children and our adolescence and our young adults that it is OK to not feel OK, it is OK to ask for help, then I think we will finally get ahead of this suicide epidemic that we have in this country," said Clara Reynolds, President and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
As for Korell, she’s thrilled to see action being taken. She believes the netting will deter people from acting before thinking.
"I think a lot of people jump off the bridge because it’s easy. It’s a quick, easy decision," she said.
Both Debbie and Clara emphasize the most important way to prevent suicide is to erase the stigma that comes with it.
The netting will extend 8 feet above the concrete barriers that are already in place, and will be made of steel.
The project is expected to be completed by this summer.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. (more help)
|FDOT: I-275 Skyway Bridge Vertical Net, project 445399-1-52-01|
fdottampabay.com, The Florida Department has reviewed multiple options to successfully deter suicide attempts on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge while preserving the iconic design.
FDOT previously implemented non-structural deterrence methods including installing six crisis hotline phones to connect with suicide prevention staff, funding 24-hour Florida Highway Patrol coverage, installing cameras to reduce response time, installing signs that message suicide assistance is available and implementing pedestrian and stopped vehicle detectors to reduce response time when motorists park on the bridge.
Technology advancements will allow the necessary inspection equipment to reach over and under the bridge and the Skyway Vertical Net to continue bridge inspections.
The Skyway Vertical Net will be a vertical barrier placed on the outside barrier wall of the bridge. Construction is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2020 and be complete by the end of the year. (08.20 update: Construction is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2020 and be complete in early 2021.
sign up to receive email alerts for this project • project factsheet
construction cost: $3,408,000 • completion: early 2021 • previously
|01.09.20: suicide barrier to be installed on the skyway.|
01.09.20, tampabay.com, Sunshine Skyway bridge to get suicide prevention barrier
The 8-foot-tall steel netting will run along about a mile and a half of the iconic span that for decades has been a magnet for people seeking to take their own lives.
This rendering from the Florida Department of Transportation shows the eight foot tall steel netting that will be added to the Sunshine Skyway later this year to deter suicidal people from jumping from the iconic span. [Florida Department of Transportation], larger image.
By Tony Marrero
Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat or call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1. (more help)
After his stepson Chris jumped from the Sunshine Skyway bridge a little more than a year ago, Rob Rivard decided to scatter his ashes from the iconic span.
Rivard resolved to wait, however, until the state built some sort of barrier on the bridge to prevent others from taking their own lives there. He contacted state officials and urged them to take action.
"I just felt if I waited, I could tell him, ‘Something positive came out of your death,’" said Rivard, of Tampa.
He could have that closure soon.
After years of pleas for a barrier to deter people from jumping some 200 feet to their deaths in Tampa Bay, the Florida Department of Transportation will construct steel netting along a roughly mile and a half stretch of the Skyway. The netting will extend vertically 8 feet from the top of the bridge’s concrete barriers, making it difficult for anyone to climb over them.
Construction is slated to begin early this summer and will take a few months.
The goal is to remove the Skyway from the ranks of the top four deadliest bridges in America, officials said. Despite measures such as increased law enforcement patrols and more surveillance cameras, the number of suicides each year has continued to trend upward. In 2018, a record 18 people died after jumping from the bridge.
"The top three bridges are either studying it or already doing something, so it was time to do this," said Jim Jacobsen, district structures maintenance engineer for the Transportation Department. "In spite of our other activities, the numbers were still increasing in the last few years so we started to look at what other bridge owners are doing worldwide."
Transportation officials searched the globe for design ideas and technology that would offer a minimalist solution to a problem that has vexed the current bridge since it opened in 1987.
One of the most important requirements: The design had to allow access to the truck-mounted booms used to inspect and maintain the underside of the bridge. In recent years, the state has switched to larger trucks, making a vertical barrier more feasible, Jacobsen said.
The barrier must also be light because the bridge’s main segment, which features a 1,200-foot opening between the two towers, won’t hold a lot of additional weight, Jacobsen said.
"For a brick structure, maybe a wrought iron system could work," he said. "But at the Skyway, the theme is light, airy, linear and thin."
A plexiglass barrier would be heavy, expensive, add too much wind resistance and eventually deteriorate in the sun.
So officials settled on the stainless steel, diamond-patterned netting used on the Eiffel Tower, the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York and on the deadliest bridge in America for suicides, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
On the Golden Gate, the netting extends horizontally below the bridge. That sort of design on the Skyway would hinder the inspection trucks and extend too far below the bridge into the shipping channel, Jacobsen said.
The Skyway system will feature vertical supports attached to the water side of the bridge’s existing 32-inch high cement barriers. The netting will extend 8 feet from the top of the barriers, creating a nearly 11-foot high obstacle. The netting will extend about 8,000 feet, to a point where the bridge is roughly 50 feet above the water.
The design of the steel netting makes it difficult to climb and easy for wind to flow through, and the color of the steel should blend well with the grays and blues of the water and sky yet still be visible to birds, Jacobsen said. The flexibility that makes it difficult to climb will also make the netting less dangerous to birds that fly into it.
"At the top of the bridge, we don’t see a lot of bird activity like you see on the fishing pier," he said. "We don’t foresee that as an issue."
The design has been approved by Florida’s State Historic Preservation Office, which must sign off on any physical modification to the bridge.
"We think when you first drive by it, you’ll see it there," Jacobsen said. "The next time you drive it, you’ll be looking through it."
The budgeted cost for the project is $3 million. Construction could start as early as June. A request for bids for the project will go out next week, and the selected contractor has 120 days to complete the project, not including days lost to inclement weather. Construction will not require lane closures because crews will be able to use the 12-foot shoulder.
The Transportation Department is also testing new surveillance camera technology on the bridge that alerts traffic control workers when a vehicle stops on the span and someone gets out. That system will be fully operational later this year.
The Skyway has attracted suicidal people since the 1960s, when previous versions of the bridge spanned Tampa Bay. Records show suicides began to increase when the current bridge, with its cables forming twin triangles visible for miles, opened in 1987.
Since then, at least 248 (correction: over 300) people have died by suicide by jumping from the span and overall activity on the bridge. the number of suicides and saves has generally trended upward, especially in the last decade, Highway Patrol records show. In each of the last four years, the bridge saw an average of one suicide per month. Last year saw a dozen suicides and 15 attempts.
In a Transportation Department study conducted about 20 years ago, a number of concerns were raised about netting, that it would impede the maintenance trucks, might fling jumpers back onto the bridge and into traffic, ensnare trash and wildlife, and mar the bridge’s iconic appearance.
So officials took other measures instead. In 1999, the state installed six crisis hotline call boxes that connect with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay as soon as someone picks one up. A state trooper patrols the bridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a quicker response to potential attempts.
Surveillance cameras have been in place for years, but their numbers have grown and the technology has improved. Last year, the Transportation Department began testing the smart camera system and also added placards with messages of hope along the bridge.
Jacobsen said officials have not yet decided whether the call boxes will remain in place after the barrier is built.
Gary King’s son Jason jumped from the Skyway in 2012. Since then, he has wondered why the state hasn’t built a barrier.
"It’s a complete blessing to hear that the state is finally going to address that," King said. "It will make an enormous difference."
After his son died, Rob Rivard lobbied a number of elected officials for a barrier including Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and state Sen. Tom Lee. Rivard was encouraged when transportation officials announced last year that they were studying the issue, and he said he’s "ecstatic" to hear the state is taking action that will save lives and help his family.
"Once that bridge is addressed, I can have peace with it and our family can start moving on and trying to deal with it," he said. "You’re never going to heal from it."
01.09.20, wtsp.com, Tampa Bay locals and grieving families have been asking for years for authorities to come up with a way to prevent people from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
"I never thought it was actually going to happen. So many people seem to rally against putting up barriers", Tiffany Mills.
She's struggled with mental health issues since the sixth grade and has been fighting for a barrier to stop people from taking their lives on the Sunshine Skyway.
On Thursday, the Florida Department of Transportation announced it will install the Skyway Vertical Net in an effort to deter suicide attempts.
If you or someone you know is struggling or considering suicide, you are not alone. And, there is help available right now.
Contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. (more)
more: wfla.com: 01.09 / 01.10 • fox13news • baynews9.com
|05.30.19: FDOT re-examining barriers along Sunshine Skyway Bridge as push from the public grows.|
05.30.19, abcactionnews.com, ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition to get a barrier or fence installed on the Sunshine Skyway bridge to save lives.
Robert Irons, who lost his daughter in December, will never look at the Skyway bridge the same again.
"I watched my daughter lose her life there," said Irons.
Irons went to the bridge on December 23 after getting a call from his daughter. He says he was just feet away from her when she jumped. He’s been in misery for months thinking about how he could have saved her.
"Thousands of ways but I can’t do this alone, it’s gonna take everybody," he said. "I can’t do it alone, I can’t do it alone."
He believes a barrier or fence would stop, or at the very least slow someone down and give rescuers the opportunity to save them.
The Florida Department of Transportation installed signs two months ago to encourage people to reach out for help. The messages read, "Yes this world is a better place with you in it," and "You are alive for a reason — don’t give up."
But Irons doesn’t think it’s enough.
"How many more lives have to go before that magic number comes?" he asked.
FDOT officials are now re-examining the idea of installing barriers and potentially a netting after previously determining those things could get in the way of inspecting and maintaining the bridge.
They say a physical barrier project is currently being studied and it in the development stage. They said in a statement:
"The Department is very concerned with the suicides occurring on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The Department has been monitoring the issue and is currently working on all options to successfully deter suicide attempts on the bridge while securing the necessary approval from the State Historic Preservation Office, which preserves the iconic design of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge."
In the meantime more than 3,000 people have signed a petition to get barriers. Irons hopes this push becomes a movement.
"I need all the help I can get to save the next person from making this mistake," he said.
If you, or someone you knows is having suicidal thoughts the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. (more help)
|01.13.19: opinion - Editorial: Revisiting safety on the Sunshine Skyway.|
A record number of suicides last year prompts the state to wisely review security options on the bridge.
The grim statistics speak for themselves: Eighteen people jumped to their deaths from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge last year, a record number that surpassed the previous high of 13 set in 2003 and again in 2017. The rise coincides with a steady increase in the suicide rate across the United States and Florida, and the Florida Department of Transportation deserves credit for revisiting how to deter suicide attempts from the iconic bridge.
The state is acting responsibly by looking to better secure public assets under its control. As the Tampa Bay Times' Tony Marrero reported, DOT had for years rejected calls to install netting or fencing to discourage jumping from the bridge. But this month, a department spokeswoman said officials are studying vertical barriers that could be installed along the bridge walls to deter suicide attempts. In addition, the department is about to install new technology that will detect pedestrians and stopped cars in an effort to alert authorities more quickly to a potential jumper.
The Skyway, which connects Pinellas and Manatee counties, has attracted people intent on taking their lives since the 1960s, (since 11.11.57) when earlier versions of the bridge spanned Tampa Bay. But records show suicides began to accelerate when the current bridge, with its cables forming twin triangles visible for miles, opened in 1987. At its highest point, the bridge deck reaches nearly 200 feet. Since the current bridge opened, 236 people, or an average of about eight people each year, have killed themselves by jumping, Florida Highway Patrol records show, making it one of the deadliest bridges in the country. Overall activity on the bridge — suicides, saves and reports of possible jumpers — has generally trended upward, especially in the last decade.
The DOT has fielded calls for nets or fencing on the Skyway for decades. One department study conducted about 20 years ago cited a number of concerns, suggesting that netting could fling jumpers back onto bridge traffic, impede the use of bridge maintenance equipment and ensnare trash and wildlife. Vertical barriers such as a fence are another option. As recently as last month, the department said it had not found a fencing system that would accommodate the truck–mounted arms that extend under the Skyway to inspect the bridge. But in a new email, spokeswoman Kris Carson said the department is concerned about suicides and is researching new barrier technology.
This is a welcome decision - and one that could save lives. The review could take a year, and in the interim, the department will install devices to detect pedestrians and stopped vehicles, which could speed the response times by authorities to the bridge. Some protective measures are in place already; in 1999, the state installed call boxes that instantly connect with a local crisis center hotline. A state trooper patrols the bridge 24/7, further speeding response times. Officials credit both measures with having saved lives.
Fencing and other technologies may be a precaution of last resort, but they could create those few critical moments that mean the difference between life and death. The DOT deserves credit for addressing a terrible reality on the bridge and a trend line that cries out for the broadest response possible.
01.04.19: As record year ends,
Florida studying suicide prevention barriers for Sunshine Skyway bridge.
01.04.19, tampabay.com, by Tony Marrero,
The Department of Transportation also plans to install new technology to detect people who may be intent on jumping. The toll for 2018 - 18 dead.
The text from Rob Rivard’s stepson came at 5:23 one Sunday morning in November.
A 20-year-old student at Pasco-Hernando State College, Chris Machesney was excited about launching a modeling career. Rivard and his wife hadn’t seen signs that Machesney was unhappy, but when Rivard read the text that morning, he knew it was meant to be a final goodbye.
Rivard frantically called his stepson’s cell phone but never got an answer. He would learn later that a police officer had been alerted to a car parked at the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and pulled up to Machesney’s Toyota Camry at 5:34 a.m.
By then, the young man was already gone. "Within eight minutes of him texting me, he jumped," Rivard said.
Machesney was one of 18 people to die by suicide from the Skyway last year, a record number that surpassed the previous high mark of 13 set in 2003 and tied in 2017, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. A 19th person who jumped last year survived the fall.
For years, the Florida Department of Transportation has rejected calls to install netting or fencing to deter jumpers from the iconic bridge. But this week, a department spokeswoman said officials are studying vertical barriers that could be installed along the bridge walls to deter suicide attempts.
In addition, the department is about to install new technology that will detect pedestrians and stopped cars to more quickly alert authorities to a potential jumper.
That’s encouraging news for Rivard, who has been lobbying the state to take measures that might have saved his stepson.
"At that moment in their lives, they’ve made a decision," Rivard said. "You’ve got to make it hard for them so first responders can get there."
• • •
The Skyway has attracted people set on taking their own lives since the 1960s, when previous versions of the bridge spanned Tampa Bay. Records show suicide there began to accelerate when the current bridge, with its cables forming twin triangles visible for miles, opened in 1987.
At its highest point, the bridge deck soars to nearly 200 feet.
Since the current bridge opened, 236 people, or an average of about eight people each year, have killed themselves by jumping from the Skyway, Highway Patrol records show, making it one of the deadliest bridges in the country.
Overall activity on the bridge — the number of suicides, saves and reports of possible jumpers — has generally trended upward, especially in the last decade. In 2018, at least nine people who appeared to be ready to jump were stopped before they could, records show.
At the nation’s deadliest bridge for suicides, San Francisco’s Golden Gate, workers began installing a stainless steel net last summer. The Florida Department of Transportation has fielded calls for similar nets or fencing on the Skyway for decades.
In a Transportation Department study conducted about 20 years ago, a number of concerns were raised about netting — that it might fling jumpers back onto the bridge and into traffic, ensnare trash and wildlife, impede equipment used to inspect the bridge, and mar the bridge’s iconic appearance.
Another option is some kind of vertical barrier, such as a fence. As recently as last month, the Transportation Department said it had not found a fencing system that would accommodate the truck-mounted extended arms used to reach under the bridge for a complete inspection.
But the department is very concerned about suicides from the bridge and is in the process of researching new barrier technology, spokeswoman Kris Carson said in an email this week.
"The department is re-examining all options to see if any technological advances have occurred including the feasibility of a vertical barrier to be placed on the outside wall," Carson said.
The research involves structural analysis, an environmental study and coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office. The office must grant its approval to ensure any additional structures are compatible with the bridge’s iconic design. The process could take more than a year, Carson said. (this!)
Meantime, the department will soon put in place "pedestrian and stopped vehicle detectors," she said, that should reduce response time by authorities when motorists park on the bridge.
Carson did not have additional details Friday.
After his stepson’s death, Rivard contacted the Transportation Department about installing fencing or netting. He then called the office of Gov. Rick Scott and a representative got back to him the next day, saying Scott got his message.
Rivard was soon on a conference call with transportation officials who told him that they were looking into a vertical barrier and that new infrared cameras, monitored around the clock to detect possible jumpers, should be up by this summer.
"I hope they do what they say they’re going to do," said Rivard, who lives in New Tampa with wife Martiza Machesney, Chris’ mother. "I’m not going away. I’ll be patient now, but I’m not going to be lip-serviced. I just want something done."
• • •
Some measures in place on the Skyway have saved lives already.
In 1999, the state installed six crisis hotline call boxes that connect with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay as soon as someone picks one up. A special ring tone in the call center alerts operators that a call is coming from the bridge, said Liza Cruz Cepeda, manager of gateway services at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
The center received a small number of calls last year, but in at least one, an operator was able to prevent the caller from jumping, she said.
A state trooper also patrols the bridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a quick response to potential suicide attempts, and troopers have been able to stop people from killing themselves, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol. But Gaskins noted it can take several minutes to respond even if a call comes as soon as someone stops on the bridge.
"If someone really wants to do this, it takes two seconds to stop and jump," he said. That point was reinforced by the case of a 43-year-old Safety Harbor housekeeper who drove to Skyway Bridge one night last month.
The woman had considered suicide before and had made statements that night that concerned her father, according to a Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s report. The father followed his daughter to the center span of the Skyway, where she got out of her car and jumped, the report says, apparently before the father had time to try to stop her.
He called 911 and her body was found in the water below.
The rise in suicides from the Skyway corresponds with a steady increase in the suicide rate across the United States and Florida.
According to a report released last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate rose by 30 percent between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity. Florida saw an increase of nearly 11 percent during that period.
The study noted that problems most frequently associated with suicide are life stressors involving work, finances, strained relationships, substance abuse and health issues. Mental health professionals and sociologists have cited the Great Recession, with its widespread layoffs and home foreclosures, as a factor in the increase.
The Tampa Bay Times obtained medical examiner reports for 15 of the 18 people who are confirmed to have died by suicide at the Skway in 2018. They ranged in age from 18 to 67. Thirteen were men. At least half had a history of mental illness, depression, or both, the records show. Nearly all lived in or near the Tampa Bay area.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends installing barriers on tall bridges and buildings to discourage jumpers, said Dr. Andreas Pumariega, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, who has studied suicide.
News that the Transportation Department is installing technology beyond the callboxes is encouraging, Pumariega said.
"You can’t rely on the person changing their mind or making a call," he said. "You should be looking to catch them in the act in some manner."
For Rivard, working to see this happen serves as a kind of therapy in the wake of his son’s death.
"This is something you never heal from, you just have to find a way to cope," he said. "My coping is addressing the problem to start saving other people’s lives."
If you’re considering suicide or suspect someone you know might be, help is available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. (more help)
|12.10.18: FDOT won’t add netting to prevent suicides on the skyway.|
12.10.18, mysuncoast.com/facebook, MANATEE COUNTY, FL (WWSB) - In between the thousand of cars that drive the four mile stretch of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge daily, at least one dozen people have jumped from the top in 2018.
20-year-old Chris Machesney of Tampa died on November 18 around 5:30 a.m. as a result of jumping from the bridge. His father, Robert Rivards, is demanding answers and change.
"You hear about the Skyway Bridge, but until it actually affects you, you don’t really start looking into things," said Rivards.
Following the suicide, ABC7 reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation, which operates the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. A spokesperson said engineers considered adding netting or fencing in the 1990's, but were left with too many question marks. A fence would prevent officials from using the proper equipment to inspect the bridge. There would be issues with aerodynamics because of wind and height. Birds could get trapped and the netting could push a jumper back into traffic during a failed attempt.
Despite the limitations, FDOT said a Florida Highway Patrol trooper is always monitoring the bridge, hoping to deter people from jumping. There’s cameras on both sides of the bridge and six phones which connect to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. When a person picks up that phone, the Crisis Center automatically deploys a FHP trooper. Unfortunately, according to the crisis center, only a handful of people pick up those phones annually.
"Between those two efforts, we can save somebody if they grab that phone," said Clara Reynolds, CEO and President of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
If you are in distress with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. (3 videos with article.)
12.11.18, wtsp.com, Why hasn't FDOT added netting to prevent suicides on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge? Precautions are being taken on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, but advocates for netting want to see more done.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There's another push to add netting to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to prevent people from jumping off.
At least a dozen a dozen people have jumped from the top so far this year.
One of them was Chris Machesney.
The 20-year-old Tampa man died in the early morning on Nov. 18. Now, his father tells our news partners at WWSB he wants changes made.
10News has been following similar stories for years.
In 2017, with construction underway on safety nets under the Golden Gate Bridge, 10News Reporter Liz Crawford asked the Florida Department of Transportation if the Sunshine Skyway Bridge could install similar safety measures to stop suicides.
Previous: Suicide and the dark side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
At the time, the department told us it had looked at a fencing system but didn't find one that would work while also allowing bridge inspections to continue as needed.
"It’s important to note the Golden Gate Bridge has a different deck structure than the Sunshine Skyway Bridge," FDOT told 10News. "The Golden Gate Bridge can be inspected by workers below the roadway surface, since the surface is supported by an open steel deck truss. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a closed segmental box, and relies on inspection trucks with arms that reach out and under the bridge for a complete inspection. If a fence were to be installed, it could potentially block access for bridge inspection."
Recently, our news partners at WWSB followed up with FDOT and got three more pieces of the puzzle.
FDOT told the news station that in addition to the inspection issues, a fence would create aerodynamics problems due to wind and height, birds might become trapped in the net, and the netting might actually push a jumper back into traffic during a failed attempt.
However, precautions are being taken.
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper is constantly assigned to monitor the bridge to try to prevent jumping. Plus, there are cameras and a handful of public phones that connect people in need to operators with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. A trooper is automatically dispatched if a call is placed, although WWSB found only a few people pick up those phones each year.
"Each person who calls us has somebody in their life who cares about them," Mordecai Dixon, a program manager at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, told 10News last year.
If you are struggling, there is help.
You can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1.
You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Sean Michael Davis' film 'Skyway Down'.
|so much blah, blah, blah...|
01.23.15, tampabay.com, funding, technology could prompt suicide barrier
02.13.07, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, the effect of a bridge safety fence
10.06.03, tampabay.com, skyway safeguards don't deter jumpers
12.25.00, tampabay.com, skyway suicide patrol beefed up
05.05.00, tampabay.com, DOT rules out nets or fences for skyway
09.03.99, a good idea that went nowhere: full article
02.07.59: full article
"But all the suicides have occurred in the Hillsborough County corridor, and the Hillsborough state attorney's office is getting tired of traveling all the way through Pinellas county to investigate them." (if it keeps an official's ass planted in his/her office, instead of investigating someone's self-death, what better reason to erect a fence?~)
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