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Teen survives jump from the Skyway Bridge as delays continue on the suicide barrier construction project

This article deals with suicide. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit the on-line chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/

On Wednesday, February 3, 2021, the repeated delays in the construction of this barrier failed to prevent another victim from jumping from the 196 foot high Skyway Bridge into the waters of Tampa Bay.

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The 18 year-old girl learned that her 17 year-old boyfriend died in a motorcycle crash earlier the same day. The fatal crash occurred at approximately 12:50 p.m. as her boyfriend was operating his motorcycle eastbound on 63rd Avenue West near Hawaiian Drive in Manatee County. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a 75 year-old driver pulled onto the roadway and into the path of the motorcyclist, who died at the scene.

After receiving the devastating news, the distraught teenager made a decision that would change her life forever. She drove to the Skyway Bridge, exited her vehicle south of the apex and jumped at approximately 10 p.m. She not only survived the impact but was able to get herself onto the rocks under the bridge.

A trooper from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) quickly arrived to the scene after the 911 communication center received a call from a passing motorist. Multiple other agencies responded to the scene including St. Petersburg Fire Rescue (SPFR), Eckerd College Search and Rescue(EC-SAR), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). First responders on the bridge were able to hear her screams for help after she pulled herself out of the water and onto the rocks.

The crew from the USCG arrived on scene and located the teen on the rocks. Heavy waves and conditions made access to her very difficult and two crew members from SPFR joined forces on the USCG vessel to access her successfully. After the treacherous effort to extricate her from the rocks, she was brought to a local boat dock and transported to the trauma center at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. The teen has undergone at least one complicated spinal surgery and is facing many hurdles during her ongoing and extensive recovery and rehabilitation.

Construction on the Skyway Bridge Vertical Net suicide barrier project was scheduled to commence in June of 2020 with completion in September of 2020. The latest information shows the new start date of early 2021 with completion in the Summer of 2021. The delays appear multifactorial but appear to be focused on the shortage of materials required due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This 3.4 million dollar project will construct an 8 ft high vertical suicide barrier placed on the outside barrier wall of the bridge.

Over the past several years, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) 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.

One of the initial issues surrounding the project was that a higher barrier would prevent the necessary periodic inspection of the bridge. FDOT reports that technology advancements will now allow the necessary inspection equipment to reach over and under the bridge and the Skyway Vertical Net to continue such bridge inspections. 

No official statistics are available but a local website, https://www.skywaybridge.com/, has been tracking jumpers from the Skyway Bridge for many years. The site shows over 350 people have jumped from the bridge since 1954. Many of those do not survive the ordeal, and those that do, suffer from the long lasting physical and emotion toll from the incident.

The true impact of these incidents, along with so many other suicides go unreported as the sigma attached to suicide is so great. Suicides are often not reported by media outlets or public safety entities which hinders the public’s awareness about the rising number of individuals killing him/herself.  According to recent statistics from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2018 there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts and more than 48,000 deaths by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. This equates to, on average, 132 Americans die by suicide each day. It is the eighth leading cause of death for all Floridians.

Many survivors and their loved ones are anxiously awaiting the completion of this construction project which will hopefully facilitate the removal the Skyway Bridge from the top five suicide bridges in the United States.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit the on-line chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/


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