GovernmentHealthThe Examiner

Bill Mandating Suicide Deterrent Bridge Features in Hudson River Valley Promoted

We are part of The Trust Project
By Samuel Rowland

A state bill that would mandate barrier features designed to make it harder for people to jump be placed on five Hudson River Valley region bridges was promoted in Peekskill last week by a pair of senators.

State Senators Pete Harckham (D/40th District) and James Skoufis (D/39th District) appeared at Riverfront Green Park in Peekskill August 4 with three suicide prevention advocates to discuss the importance of the proposed legislation.

“This is about trying to get those individuals past that suicidal impulse that is overwhelming them,” Skoufis said. “It also buys time for the crisis intervention experts to get to those individuals”

The five bridges that would be affected by the bill iwould be the Bear Mountain Bridge, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and the Rip Van Wrinkle Bridge. What is referred to as means restriction fencing was already built into the Mario Cuomo Bridge as part of the Tappan Zee Replacement Project, which Harckham also had a role in.

“There are three different types of barriers on that bridge. There is a corrugated metal [fence] at an angle that is climb resistant. There is a what’s called a tensile mesh on the suspended sections. It’s lighter, but that is hard to climb. And then there is a plexiglass on the overlook,” Harckham explained.

Rocco Battista, a resident of Warwick in Orange County, told the story of the last moment of his son Danny’s life, who died of suicide by jumping off of a cellphone tower at the age of 19 on April 26, 2008.

“When you have a means for them to reach out with a last breath of hope…that might be enough. Having barriers on the bridges is important, and so is peer support,” Battista said. “Suicide does not discriminate; it is you fighting a battle with you…We all have moments.”

In 2013, Battista’s advocacy led to A05500 – nicknamed “The Battista 4 Life Bill” – introduced in the Assembly, which would have mandated that the operators of cellphone towers and water towers place signs publicizing the National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number at their base. The bill, however, never left the Economic Development Committee, despite the support of 32 other sponsors.

“In Westchester alone last year almost 80 people lost their lives to suicide,” said Maria Idoni, the Hudson Valley/Westchester area director of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (AFSD). “I cover six counties. And in Westchester, I feel that we need the most help with getting the word out about suicide.”

The current bill was introduced in the New York State Senate on July 30, 2021, by Harckham, the primary sponsor, and was then quickly referred to the Senate Rules Committee, where it will stay until the 2022 legislative session begins. Skoufis is the Senate bill’s main co-sponsor. Assemblymember Aileen M. Gunther (D), Chair of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee, is introducing the same legislation in the Assembly, with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D/Ossining) ready to co-sponsor.

Along with the general call for means restriction fencing at the five New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA) bridges, Harckham and Bedford resident Erika Lang Pierce, who had a family member die of suicide at the Bear Mountain Bridge five weeks ago, criticized the NYSBA and the State Police for not being forthcoming with bridge suicide data.

Pierce claimed a police officer told her soon after she learned about her family member’s death that they had stopped counting how many people had died of suicide on the Bear Mountain Bridge, in an apparent attempt to console her that she was not alone in her grief.

When asked for comment by Examiner Media, the NYSBA declined to be interviewed and sent a statement through their public information officer’s email.

“The Authority has undertaken a number of initiatives over the past few decades to address the tragedy of suicide. This includes installing Helpline phones and advanced cameras and monitoring equipment on our bridges, staffing a 24/7 Command Center to assist with security monitoring and emergency response, as well as training staff in suicide prevention and Mental Health First Aid,” the statement read. “Installing physical barriers on our bridges is an option being considered by the Bridge Authority as part of our capital program. It would not require legislation.”

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.