Skyway suicide patrol beefed up
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 25, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Two state troopers will spend Christmas on the Sunshine Skyway bridge to keep people from jumping off.
The Florida Highway Patrol recently has been posting a trooper on the bridge every day for suicide-prevention duty, FHP supervisors said.
"It's been going on for a while. It's not something new that just popped up," FHP Lt. T. Hines said Sunday. "We've had one officer out there for quite some time now."
On Sunday, however, the number of troopers posted on the Skyway was doubled. That will continue today.
"Normally it's just one," Hines said.
The Highway Patrol is trying to prevent deaths during the holiday season, when doctors say thoughts of suicide increase among the severely troubled or depressed.
This time of year, society puts a premium on appearing happy, according to Dr. David Shern, dean of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute in Tampa. People who don't fit that stereotype are confronted with it, and it brings into focus their feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
And the Skyway has the unfortunate reputation of being a magnet for suicides. It's the third-deadliest bridge in the country for suicides, after San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and San Diego's Coronado Bridge.
The number of people who jump to their deaths from the Skyway has been rising: six in 1996, eight in 1997, 12 in 1998 and 12 again last year.
Just after midnight Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving, two St. Petersburg men made a suicide pact and parked on the Skyway's center span.
One of them, 30-year-old Rodney Kibler, had broken up with his girlfriend and was on medication. Kibler jumped to his death -- the sixth person to do so this year.
FHP Cpl. Richard Kraus drove up and stopped the other man, Arthur "Bill" Clark, 28, from doing the same.
"You don't want to do that!" Kraus yelled as Clark swung his legs over the wall. Kraus persuaded Clark to sit in his patrol cruiser and talk instead.
Shortly after taking office last year, Gov. Jeb Bush prodded the state Department of Transportation to look into installing fences or safety nets on the Skyway to cut down on suicides.
But the DOT has ruled out both of those options and is trying a different strategy: putting more state troopers and security cameras on the bridge. New video cameras are to be installed toward the top of the Skyway next year.
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