Thursday, July 26, 2007

Committee supports suicide barrier


Building a barrier on the Cold Spring Arch Bridge is the most effective way to prevent people from committing suicide there.
That seemed to be the general consensus at a townhall meeting on preventing suicide along the San Marcos Pass bridge held yesterday evening in Santa Barbara. Representatives from Caltrans, the Glendon Association and law enforcement gave presentations and spoke with local residents.

“I’ve never seen such an overwhelming response from the public,” said Nevin Sams, a safety engineer with Caltrans. “...It wasn’t a matter of should it happen, it was how fast can you get it in?”
Since the bridge was built in 1964, 43 people have jumped from it to the rocky canyon below. Just last week, CHP officers said a women who led them on a high-speed chase before crashing on State Route 154 told them she wanted to jump from the bridge.
“I don’t want to see anyone else die, and I don’t want to see any of my officers get hurt or die trying to help somebody,” Commander Dominick Palera, with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, told the crowd.
He showed a video captured last year of officers rescuing someone on the bridge who was threatening to jump. They leaned far over the railing to grab the man and pull him back to safety, one of the officers nearly losing her balance and falling herself.
Some local residents raised concerns over the aesthetic impact of adding a barrier that officials say has to be at least 6 feet tall and cover the entire span of the bridge. The arch bridge is in the process of being registered as a Historic Structure, and some people expressed worry that it will destroy its “classically beautiful” appearance.
“There are concerns about what this bridge will end up looking like,” Caltrans Spokesman Jim Shivers told the Daily Sound. “We want to put up a project that will save lives without impacting the historical significance of the bridge.”
Jamie Rotnofsky, executive director of the Glendon Association and former psychologist and crisis worker, said there are a lot of misconceptions about suicide. Those who attempt suicide, she said, are often acting on impulse, are not thinking clearly and those who survive rarely attempt to kill themselves again.
“Unfortunately, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Rotnofsky told the Daily Sound.
With the barrier, Rotnofsky said statistics taken from other bridges show that the number of suicides at the Cold Spring Arch Bridge should drop to zero. Also, if they are deterred, Rotnofsky said, studies show they won’t go find another place to kill themselves.
Officials hope to complete an environmental study in the spring of 2008 and hold more public hearings. With the design phase slated for completion by the fall of 2009, the proposed construction of a barrier will take place during the summer of 2010.
Current cost estimates hover just above $600,000, and the project will be paid for with state transportation safety funds, Caltrans officials said.
The Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge Suicide Prevention Committee is made up of members from Caltrans, the Glendon Association, California Highway Patrol, county Sheriff’s Department, SBCAG, Family Service Agency, the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services and ACCESS Team.

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