PORT ANGELES — Protesters voiced outrage over the lack of barriers on the Eighth Street bridges as candles flickered along the 4-foot, 6-inch rails of the eastern bridge, illuminating memorials for Ashley Ann Wishart on Monday night.
Her father, Richard Wishart, was too heartbroken and numb to protest the night of his 15-year-old daughter’s death, but he was grateful to those who did.
“For myself, it was too early to protest, but for the people who have gone through this before, it is definitely not too early to protest,” he said. “They should be protesting every day until something is done.”
Wishart said he loved every single person who was on the bridge for the protest and vigil.
On Monday, his daughter became the third person to jump from either of the 100-foot-tall Eighth Street bridges since June 4 and the seventh since the renovated bridges opened in February 2009.
Wishart said the city of Port Angeles failed when it renovated the two Eighth Street bridges and declined to add taller fencing.
“If those fences were 3 feet higher, the people who stopped to try to pull her down could have reached her,” Wishart said.
“But because that rail was so short, they didn’t have time to get her.”
Sammi Bates, 16, was among about 50 people who gathered on the bridge to honor Ashley’s life. She had a clear message for the city of Port Angeles.
“They need to do something,” Sammi said, holding a candle for her friend. “Put a cage over the goddamn bridge because I’m tired of seeing people lose their lives.”
Sammi said she went to elementary and middle school with Ashley and they had gotten close throughout the years. They had pretty much grown up together, she said.
“Ashley was an amazing, bright young girl and her life was cut short,” said Sammi, a sophomore at Port Angeles High School. “She was the sweetest little girl you could ever meet, and it’s sad her life was taken away from her so soon.”
Nikki Drake and her son, Logan Leffel, attended and lit candles for Wishart as they stood at the railing of the bridge.
Drake said her daughter knew Wishart well but was so heartbroken she couldn’t attend the vigil. Instead, she went to her grandparents’ in Oregon so she could process her emotions.
Drake recalled growing up in Port Angeles when the previous bridges were in place and doesn’t remember people using the bridges to commit suicide as frequently.
“It seems to me, being here when I was younger, we didn’t have this issue,” she said. “When it happened, it was so far and few between.”
The two bridges replaced spans built in 1936 that had 4-foot, 2-inch railings until 1959, when 7-foot, 8-inch railings were installed.
“I can’t imagine what these families are going through,” Drake said. “I wouldn’t want to live it; I wouldn’t want to live it.”
Several parents who were on the bridge supporting their grieving children said they have feared their children could commit suicide.
“It scares the hell out of me,” said Steven Burnham, a para-educator and father of four. “It’s been our fear for a long time.”
Burnham had met Wishart once but said his son knew her well.
Burnham said he believes if someone wants to commit suicide, they will, but that doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t make it more difficult by adding barriers.
“If someone really wants to end their life, they are going to find a way,” he said. “But they do have options to help prevent [suicide] right here.”
Racheal Johnson, who organized the protest, said the city needs to install barriers. She proposes curved Plexiglas barriers that wouldn’t take away from the view but would prevent people from jumping.
Johnson said she knew Wishart well, describing her as a soft-spoken sweetheart who was always concerned with helping others with their problems.
Johnson said she plans to start a petition to install barriers and to continue protesting until barriers are installed.
The City Council considered adding some kind of barrier in 2015 and discussed a $1 million safety-barrier project but decided against it because of the cost.
Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd said Monday she would give an update at the Nov. 21 City Council meeting on her efforts to procure state funding to add suicide barriers.
They are estimated to cost $900,000, an option the City Council has rejected as too expensive over the past few years as well as in 2007, when the council decided on the bridge design, said Kidd, who was not on the council then.
“I’m scared it’s going to be one of my kids one day,” Johnson said. “Not doing this is only hurting our community.”
A celebration of life for Ashley will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Dungeness Community Church, 45 Eberle Lane, Sequim.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.