Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sunshine Skyway a Source of Dismay for Money Hungry Florida Lawmakers

Courtesy Chris O'Meara / AP Around 120 people have killed themselves by jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge since it opened in April 1987.

On May 2, the AP reported Florida lawmakers would end funding for suicide patrols on St. Petersburg’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge. After opening the article with a patrolman’s re-telling of a failed save, the AP wrote: "Now it’s possible that the bridge patrol, which troopers say has saved dozens of lives since it was initiated in 2000, could be cut back as the cash-strapped state government struggles to make ends meet… By being constantly on or around the bridge, troopers have thwarted more than 90 suicide attempts since 2000, the highway patrol says. Regardless, a state [DOT] spokeswoman acknowledged that the $330,000-a-year program that pays troopers to work extra duty on the Skyway is being scrutinized" (emphasis mine).

Life and death can so polarize people that even a hard news reporter sub-textually voices his opinions! (Another article, titled ‘Skyway safeguards don’t deter jumpers,’ ironically included an interview with a woman who succeeded in jumping from the bridge, survived, then expressed overwhelming gratitude she had lived!) It’s my contention this pervasive thinking is behind the decision to cut the bridge program; further, I believe lawmakers could be convinced to keep it if they saw qualitative proof of long-term merit.
Courtesy Chris O'Meara / AP Hanns Jones holds drawings he made of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg, Fla. He survived a jump from the bridge on May 30, 2001. Jones says he’s fine and happy today, and he often wonders why he survived when so many others didn’t.

Detractors say Build a barrier or Won’t they do it anyway? But the high-profile spot attracts increasing numbers who want to end their lives in peaceful surroundings. Anyway, lawmakers bestowed authority on engineers to make the barrier decision--word came back: ‘it might hurt the birds.’ Barriers are not compassionate. Isn’t human interaction what pulls us back from the dark?

"It costs 1200 for the Coast Guard to recover
a body from Tampa Bay"-
Christina Headrick, St. Petersburg Times

Times photo courtesy Joe Walles

And if that morose little statistic isn’t bad enough, Myflorida.com lists current contracts awarded for state government security, including hundreds of thousands in metal detectors and wands--measures to stop death before it occurs, to circumvent actions of emotionally distraught people! How do we anymore quantify lives saved through these measures than through the bridge program? It’s right we live in a society in which the greater good is held to an ideal--but is constant talk of guns and checkpoints really going to convince anybody that life’s getting better?

It gets worse. On May 2, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote: "On July 1, the state of Florida will see draconian cuts in state government spending… The reductions, about $6 billion, will have monumental consequences… even as lawmakers continue to push for corporate tax breaks and pet projects better known as turkeys." The Sun-Sentinel op-ed insightfully concludes: "If the standard of a society is how well it treats its less fortunate, then this budget before lawmakers today reflects a state that has come up short."

Bragg, Rick. "On Florida Bridge, Troopers are also Suicide Counselors." New York Times. 9 May 1999: 16.
Headrick, Christina. "For Many, Sunshine Skyway bridge is a dark symbol of sadness and loss." St. Petersburg Times. 13 April 1998.
Jones, Jamie. "Skyway safeguards don’t deter jumpers." St. Petersburg Times.
6 October 2003.
Stacy, Mitch. "Last stop: Battling the draw of a suicide bridge." Associated Press.
2 May 2008.