PORT ANGELES — Two bridges, two suicides, two grieving fathers.
Enough is enough, Richart Wishart and Randy Henry said last week.
They believe it’s time for the city to install barriers on the 100-foot-tall Eighth Street bridges — higher than the existing 4-foot, 6-inch railings to prevent more deaths and more tears.
Henry’s 31-year-old son, Joseph, leaped from the Tumwater Truck Route bridge Oct. 4.
“I didn’t think the barriers were necessary, someone’s going to find a way anyhow,” the Sequim resident said last week. “Then I got to thinking, too, if Joe was a spur-of-the-moment [decision], the barriers would help.
“As far as I know, he did not have any other means, did not have a gun, did not have anything else to take his own life.”
Wishart’s 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, jumped from the Valley Creek bridge Nov. 13 just as girls who had stopped on the the span ran to save her, he said last week.
“I feel like it’s common sense if those rails were up 8 feet like they should have been, those motorists that stopped by would have had time to grab an ankle, grab her shirt,” said Wishart, a Port Angeles resident.
“There would have been time for the motorists to come up and grab her.”
In the wake of Ashley Wishart’s death and the subsequent public clamor for barriers, Port Angeles City Council members decided Nov. 21 to erect temporary barriers and add permanent ones to the capital facilities plan.
They will discuss the topic at a regular meeting that begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
A public hearing on adding the construction of the barriers to the 2018-2023 plan will be held at the meeting.
The deaths of Joseph Daniel Henry and Ashley Ann Wishart were the sixth and seventh suicides from the bridges since February 2009, when the spans replaced older bridges, which had 7-foot, 8-inch fences that were added after the old bridges were built.
“If they had suicide barriers on the old bridges, why didn’t they think anyone would jump off the new ones?” Henry asked.
“That’s kind of hard to fathom here.
“I think they just wanted good looking bridges.”
Learning of a young person such as Ashley dying the way she did also helped reverse Randy Henry’s opinion about barriers, he said.
“When you start getting teenagers and younger people like that, something needs to be done,” he said.
The Port Angeles City Council had declined to erect barriers on the Eighth Street bridges following the Oct. 11, 2014 death of 21-year-old Stephanie Diane Caldwell, who fell from the same span as Ashley Wishart.
A heart-within-a-heart-shaped stone memorial to Caldwell with artificial flowers, angel figurines and “STEPHANIE” on a white cross stands out at the foot of Valley Creek bridge more than three years after Caldwell died.
On Wednesday, a few feet from the marker, Richard Wishart was paying his third visit to the bridge since his own daughter died, standing on the roadway a few feet north of where Ashley fell.
“Coming down here, it’s obviously a little bit harder to look at the scene of where it happened,” he said.
“It’s part of the closure.”
He said Ashley, a Port Angeles High School sophomore, had been fighting emotional issues when she died.
She had been in counseling at Peninsula Behavioral Health for depressive behavior for a few months, he said. She also had been trying to work through boyfriend problems that led to her getting bullied by friends.
Wishart recalled the morning she ended up on the Valley Creek bridge was better than many.
Ashley ate a breakfast bar with coffee and they talked about a stained-glass art before she boarded the school bus.
“The last think I said to her was, ‘Bye, Honey, have a good day,’ and she said, ‘Bye, Dad, have a good day.’”
She texted a friend later that morning with a startling message.
“She had sent texts, had told one of her friends that she was on the bridge, and ‘goodbye,’” Wishart said.
He said the students told school officials and a call was placed to 9-1-1.
It was too late, and jumping was too easy, Wishart said.
He’s glad the council decided Nov. 21 to act but remains upset the council in 2014 did not.
“Clearly they were negligent in their decision they made a couple years ago,” Wishart said.
“It’s sad that it was my daughter that ended up in this position as sort of the push to change it.
“If it is in fact true that my daughter is the last one to die with this situation, then she didn’t die in vain, that she potentially saved other people’s lives if this change actually gets completed.
“For me, it’s sort of a happy thought on such a sad issue.
“If it changes now and it’s a result of my daughter, then it helps in my healing.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].