OUR VIEW: Port Angeles must build a suicide barrier

FOR THOSE WHO want to kill themselves, procrastination can be a life-saver.

Putting off action — something generally viewed as a character flaw — for just a day or only a few hours can allow anger to cool, despair to find hope or cool, clear-eyed acceptance of reality to see the last resort as only one of many choices.

Those who can’t put it off, and who lack some other inner barrier, may need an outside barrier to give their creativity a chance to catch up after a devastating shock and find other answers.

In the past eight years, seven people went to one of the two Eighth Street bridges in Port Angeles and jumped to their deaths. The present 4½-foot tall railings presented no barrier of the impulse.

The youngest, Ashley Ann Wishart, who died less than a week ago, was only 15. The oldest, D. Ann Shortess, who died in March 2015, was 76. Joseph Daniel Henry, Paul Gerald Sutherland and Joshua Reynolds were men. Wishart, Shortess, Stephanie Diane Caldwell and Lisa Marie Bash were women. Some were fighting mental illness. Others had reasons known only to themselves.

They are a diverse group, a cross-section of the abilities and potentialities in our community. Their only commonality was that their impulse to jump met no barrier.

The problem seems to be growing. Three of the seven suicides have been since June.

Falling 100 feet onto a hard surface is not an easy death. There must be terror on the way down — 2.5 seconds can be a long time for the mind during stress — and incredible pain upon meeting the pavement or earth below.

It may seem like a peaceful way out. Henry took off his shoes, as one removes shoes before climbing into bed to sleep, before he stepped into oblivion. But between that act and oblivion were terror and wrenching pain.

Many of the rare few who have survived the jump from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco have described instant regret as soon as their hands left the railing. How many of our neighbors who jumped wanted desperately to take it all back when it was too late?

A taller fence could stop this.

In a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry in 2015, researchers found that installing suicide barriers can reduce the number of deaths by more than 90 percent at high-risk locations.

The new Eighth Street bridges with the short railings were opened in February 2009. They replaced spans built in 1936 that had 4-foot, 2-inch railings until 1959, when 7-foot, 8-inch railings were installed.

In the decade from December 1999 and 2009, only two people jumped from the bridges.

The Port Angeles City Council has discussed building a taller fence off and on since 2009, the year the new bridges were opened and the year of the first suicide off them.

The decision was that it would cost too much. A safety fence would cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million, depending on the type of fencing, Craig Fulton, public works director, said last week. Especially after the loss of Nippon Paper Industries USA, the city does not have the money in reserves to fund the fence.

Detractors say a person intent upon suicide will simply find another way if one method is blocked. But the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District cited a 1978 Sieden study at the Golden Gate Bridge and a Harvard School of Public Health article. The consensus from both was that of the people stopped from jumping, 90 percent did not later die by suicide.

Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd is seeking state funding for a safety fence on the bridges.

She has spoken to at least three of the four newly elected council members and has contacted Rep. Mike Chapman about the possibility of state help.

The new majority of the council, once it is seated in January, must make a safety fence a priority. That will aid in acquiring state funding.

Residents can help by letting city officials know through emails and letters that safety fencing is a priority for them.

Already some residents have taken it upon themselves to stand vigil on the bridge. Groups of people are there every night, drawing attention to both the need to make the bridges safer, and harder to commit suicide from, and to urge residents to care more about each other to prevent suicides from happening.

Unsung heroes on the Port Angeles Police Department have talked down many more people than have jumped.

Residents can make the difference for the future by letting the council know that it is imperative we build a barrier to suicide in Port Angeles.

Once the fence is built, we suggest a plaque be erected upon it that lists those who have died.

They are:

• Ashley Ann Wishart, 15, Port Angeles, Valley Creek Gorge Bridge, Nov. 13.

• Joseph Daniel Henry, 31, Clallam County, Tumwater Truck Route bridge, Oct. 4.

• Paul Gerald Sutherland, 49, of Port Angeles, Tumwater Truck Route bridge, June 8.

• D. Ann Shortess, 76, Port Angeles, Tumwater Truck Route bridge, March 2015.

• Stephanie Diane Caldwell, 21, Port Angeles, Valley Creek Gorge bridge, October 2014.

• Lisa Marie Bash, 20, Port Angeles, Tumwater Truck Route bridge, July 2012.

• Joshua Reynolds, 19, Port Angeles, Valley Creek Gorge bridge, April 2009.

We don’t know the intimate details of their decisions to die. But if we are successful in building a barrier, we will know that they didn’t die in vain.

The new City Council must act, and residents must keep it before them. We can’t afford to lose one more person.

_________

The Peninsula Daily News editorial board consists of Regional Publisher Terry Ward and Executive Editor Leah Leach.

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