PORT ANGELES — The whirlwind appearance of suicide-attempt survivor and author Kevin Hines drew hundreds to venues in Port Angeles and Blyn who were implored to reach out to those in anguish or themselves seek help.
Participants learned of plans for a new children’s behavioral health center and the origin of a key $100,000 donation toward construction of $770,000 suicide barriers on the Eighth Street bridges later this year.
“Today, we are here for each other,” Hines, who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000 and lived to tell about it, said Friday afternoon to a Civic Field, Port Angeles crowd of about 300 to 400 people, many of them high school age.
John David Crow of the Green Crow timberland management company spoke of Hines’ message of instant regret when Hines jumped off the 220-foot span, a message that inspired the Crow family’s donation to help build suicide fences about 1.5 miles from where Hines, Crow and other presenters spoke Friday afternoon.
“What tormented me was the thought that after someone jumped off the bridge, at that moment, that they wished they hadn’t done that,” Crow said.
The Crow family’s funding boost was key to generating City Council and state legislative financial support for the $770,000 suicide-barrier fences, said Rebekah Miller, program coordinator at Peninsula Behavioral Health in Port Angeles.
Kitsap Bank sponsored Hines’ appearance in Port Angeles, where he arrived by float plane with last-minute scheduling help from PBH. He appeared at the annual PBH fundraiser at 7 Cedars Casino in Blyn a few hours later Friday night, the former high school actor mesmerizing a crowd of 200 dinner goers dressed in formal attire.
“I will always survive the pain, because pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” Hines, 37, told them, walking back and forth across the stage.
“I am not bipolar, I am Kevin Hines, and I deserve to be here.”
The Eighth Street bridge barriers will be erected in September to make it tougher to die by suicide at the 100-foot-tall spans.
Four people have jumped to their deaths since June by climbing or leaping over 4-foot-6-inch railings that will be replaced by 8-foot, 9-inch fences.
“We would not be moving forward right now if we were still talking about those [lack of] fences on those bridges,” Miller told the Civic Field crowd.
“We’ve had this swarm of suicides in Port Angeles.”
Most are not from the bridges.
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said there were 23 deaths by suicide in Clallam County 2017 and 10 already in 2018, including one person who was airlifted to Seattle, where she was pronounced dead.
“We are experiencing what I would call a true public health crisis,” Nichols said. “If you see someone whose well-being you are concerned over, say something.”
A.J. Teel, the drug and alcohol intervention specialist for Port Angeles High School and Lincoln High School, told the Civic Field crowd of his sister dying by suicide off an Eighth Street bridge 3½ years ago.
“It’s a loss that still touches me to this day,” Teel said.
“If you are struggling with not a lot of hope, I want you to look at people in your life you can reach out to.”
Hines said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 17 and two years later jumped off the 220-foot-high Golden Gate bridge, climbing over, according to news accounts, what was a 4-foot railing and “believing I had to die,” Hines said.
Both of his parents were substance abusers and also had bipolar disorder, he said.
While on a public transit bus on his way to the bridge, the 19-year-old openly cried and was mocked by a passenger instead of being asked what was wrong, he recalled.
Hines, author of “Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt,” broke three vertebrae and an ankle when he fell from the Golden Gate Bridge, hitting the water in four seconds at an angle at 75 mph “like a brick wall” — and avoiding severing his spinal cord by 2 mm, he told dinner participants.
Hines said he descended 70 feet below the surface, then swam upward in one breath, using only his arms.
He was driven by one thought of survival.
“If I die here, no one will ever know you didn’t want to, no one will ever know you made a mistake,” Hines recalled.
“I didn’t want to die. I made a mistake.”
Hines was given a 50-50 chance to live.
“I wish I knew back then what I know now,” Hines said.
“My thoughts do not always have to become my actions.
“Say it together,” he exhorted the 7 Cedars crowd.
Of the 3,000 people Hines said have attempted death by suicide by going over the bridge — the official estimate is closer to 2,000 — Hines said he is one of three dozen who survived and one of five who can stand, walk and run.
“They call it the most exclusive survivors club in the world,” he said.
Wendy Sisk, the Peninsula Behavioral Health CEO, announced the start of a capital fundraising drive to renovate the site of the former St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store at 112 E. Eighth St. into a children’s behavioral health center meant to treat distressed youngsters like Hines was as a child.
Of people with a mental illness, 75 percent show signs of a malady before age 24, said Dr. Paul Cunningham, the master of ceremonies for the fundraising dinner.
Miller said Saturday that the children’s behavioral health center project will cost between $900,000 and $1 million, with completion anticipated by December.
Organizers hope to raise half of that in donations, with $200,000 of that already generated, including $50,000 from First Federal Foundation.
Miller said 708 children between 3 and 19 years old were seen as clients at Peninsula Behavioral health in 2017, with most on the low end of the age range.
“Some of them have very similar lives to how Kevin grew up,” Miller said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].