GWB suicide fence is good news

A PUBLISHER WRITES: The Port Authority’s plans for a nine-foot, $50 million barrier to deter would-be jumpers from the George Washington Bridge is beyond welcomed.

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Earlier this year, a similar barrier was OK’d for the Golden Gate Bridge in California, one of the world’s most infamous suicide magnets.

Complain, if you will, about the aesthetics. These things save lives that one hopes can be salvaged.

At least 1,600 people have committed suicide from the Golden Gate, including a record 46 last year. For decades, many of their survivors have begged for barriers.

Jerry DeMarco

“The time of healing can only begin when the steady drip-drip-drip of bodies into the raging waters has stopped,” said Dana Barks of Napa, whose son, Donovan, jumped to his death in 2008.

The two biggest arguments against the nets — that they will mar the appearance of the scenic bridge’s and will send suicides elsewhere — are both hollow.

For one thing, the GWB barrier — to be completed by 2020 — will be designed to blend. And even if it didn’t, the compassion it represents will only endear both spans to the world.

Before you think that the desperate will simply find another means, think again: A recent study found that 9 of 10 troubled people who are deterred from what generally is an impulse to jump from a perch with such broad vistas don’t seek another route.

Driving fast is a blast. And while speed limits don’t stop everyone, studies show that they do make a difference in saving lives.

And that’s what this is about.

By the numbers: Suicides from the Ellington Street Bridge in Washington, D.C., went from more than two dozen in seven years to one in five after a barrier was installed. The Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower stopped becoming suicide magnets after erecting nets.

The Port Authority can’t cry poverty, either. The funding sources for the Golden Gate barriers are $20 million in bridge toll revenue, $49 million in federal money and $7 million from the state of California (The contribution from Washington was made possible by a bill signed into law two years ago making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds).

So it’s doable.

The plunge to the water below might seem a peaceful end to some. Far from it.

It takes a GWB jumper barely three seconds to hit the water at more than 55 miles an hour, creating 15 tons of force on impact.

The result: broken bones and skulls and massive internal injuries.

Hard to believe that 20 or so people have reportedly survived the drop.

A 28-year-old a former Naval Academy water-polo player was the last one, five years ago. Several years earlier, a woman was plucked from the water alive but suffering from serious lifelong injuries. The same for a man who lived to tell about his leap in 1968.

Then there was a Bergen County man who in the 1940s bet a friend that he could survive. He swam to shore, collected his money — then died of his injuries a few days later.

The number of jumpers from the 82-year-old GWB has ticked up in recent years.

There were 15 confirmed suicides last year. There were also 49 saves — formally known as “interventions,” the authority’s Joseph Pentangelo said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There were 18 confirmed GWB suicide leaps in 2014. There were 12 for 2015 as of June 30.

That came after what is considered a recent GWB record, 18 suicides, that were recorded in 2012 — more than all of the other Hudson and East River crossings combined. This followed a decade that averaged six per year.

A man whose body was pulled from the Hudson today was No. 14 for this year.

There also have been 52 interventions in 2014, Pentangelo said.

This past June, a good Samaritan from Haworth grabbed a 67-year-old Union City man as he climbed over the railing with a mouthful of pills (READ MORE….).

Last year, Port Authority Police Officer Jesse Turano grabbed a 40-year-old Queens man who “went airborne” and pulled him back over a railing. A month later, a 57-year-old homeless man had one leg over the railing when Port Authority Police Officer Raul Munoz pulled him to safety.

On Feb. 1, a 26-year-old Manhattan woman stared down at the river after climbing over a GWB railing when she was surprised by Officers Stephen Gryboski, a 13-year department veteran, and Mario Garcia, a nine-year vet.

Drawing of proposed Golden Gate Bridge nets

While one grabbed her in a bear hug, pinning her to the railing, the other got hold of her legs and flipped her back onto the south walkway. She was brought to Bergen Regional Medical Center.

Several more tales of heroism have been played out on the GWB this year.

Yes, a rescue may not make a difference to someone whose brain chemistry is volatile or who, for whatever reason, has lost all hope.

Three months ago, a 50-year-old Montvale man talked with rescuers for more than an hour before plunging from the George to the Hudson.

The father of two worked for one of the country’s largest banks and was extremely active in the community. Sources told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he had cancer.

Clearly, the best place to discuss reasons for living isn’t with a desperate person perched 220 feet above the unforgiving river.

That’s why fences and nets more than make perfect sense.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says the four-foot railings make it easy for those with the will. Bridge barriers work best, in tandem with signs and phones along the walkways, the organization says.

On the plus side, the Port Authority employs a private security company to be its eyes and ears on the GWB when officers aren’t frequently patrolling. A dozen or so phones are labeled “Need Help” in Spanish and English, and connect directly to suicide hotlines. The walkways close at midnight.

Research shows that intense suicidal emotions rarely last a long time. If that weren’t enough, consider: Nine of 10 people who by die by suicide suffer from a treatable disorder.

Kevin Hines, who suffers from bi-polar disorder and survived a Golden Gate jump 14 years ago, said he hesitated and wouldn’t have gone over the side “if someone just showed me that he or she cared.”

We are a compassionate people. We do so much to honor the memories of those who have gone before — especially those who’ve died way too young.

What better way to honor the many who’ve plummeted to their deaths in the Hudson than by stopping trying to follow them?


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