20 May 2007

Tappan Zee Bridge Getting Suicide Prevention Phones

WHITE PLAINS -- To deter people seeking to commit suicide by leaping to their deaths from two bridges spanning the Hudson River, authorities say a human barrier, via a telephone call, may be better than any physical one.

After a study that examined a range of strategies, bridge authorities decided to install three telephones on the Tappan Zee Bridge and four on the Bear Mountain Bridge.

The phones will connect troubled callers to Lifeline, a suicide-prevention hot line that is staffed 24 hours a day.

``As a last resort, we want to make available a last contact. It's what's called a 'human' barrier,'' said Gary Spielmann, who wrote a recent report recommending that the state Bridge Authority, which overseas the Tappan Zee and the Bear Mountain, install suicide-prevention telephones.

He said bridge authorities had decided that physical barriers were not feasible because of the cost and routine maintenance, were not feasible.

Some people who have lost loved ones to suicide on the bridge would like to see physical barriers.

``There's nothing to stop you from going over. It's so easy,'' said Joan White, 72, whose daughter jumped from the Tappan Zee in 2004. She said she supports any measure to prevent suicides on the bridge. ``If there were a barrier, it would have allowed for more time, for someone to help.''

The plan to install the telephones comes after a spate of attempted and successful suicides on the Hudson River bridges. They would cost about $50,000 to install at various points along the spans.

The first suicide on Tappan Zee was in July 1957. Twenty-seven people have leapt to their deaths from both the Tappan Zee and the Bear Mountain over the past 10 years. Three have successfully killed themselves so far in 2007. Many others have attempted suicide.

Dr. Fred Zugibe, a pathologist and former Rockland County coroner who has carried out several autopsies on river suicides, described the injuries sustained during such leaps of death as gruesome.

``It's a very unpleasant way to die. People think it's a nice, easy way, but they die with a lot of pain and suffering,'' Zugibe said.

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