TAMPA BAY, F.L. -- With construction underway on safety nets under the Golden Gate Bridge intended to prevent suicides, 10News wanted to know if the Sunshine Skyway Bridge could also install safety measures to stop suicides.
If you live in the Bay area, you've likely driven over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It's a crucial transportation connector but also a glistening icon.
10News reporter Liz Crawford looked at the dark side of the bridge. About a dozen people take their life every year by jumping off the bridge. Most will not die instantly and sometimes people even survive.
In April, work began on a net under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to prevent suicides so 10News WTSP wanted to know if more could be done to prevent suicides off the Skyway.
WTSP received this response from the Florida Department of Transportation:
The safety of the traveling public on the state’s bridges is a top priority of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The department has looked at a fencing system on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the past, however, FDOT has not found a system that would work and also allow inspection of the bridge. It’s important to note the Golden Gate Bridge has a different deck structure than the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge can be inspected by workers below the roadway surface, since the surface is supported by an open steel deck truss. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a closed segmental box, and relies on inspection trucks with arms that reach out and under the bridge for a complete inspection. If a fence were to be installed, it could potentially block access for bridge inspection.
While researching the topic, 10News met Debbie Korell. She became a widow seven years ago when her late husband, Todd jumped off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge ending his life.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and he was gone," said Debbie.
Debbie kept photos and scrapbooks of the happy times with Todd.
"Todd was a wonderful person, happy, friendly, cheerful."
Debbie says Todd never showed any signs of depression or suicide over the course of their 11-year marriage.
"This surprised everyone. Todd was the last person that you would ever expect. We don't put the everyday face on mental illness."
Now, Debbie hopes Todd's story can inspire others to seek help.
Debbie said, "I wish I had asked Todd, are you in emotional pain? Is there something I can do to help you? Do you need to talk to someone?"
Debbie first talked publicly about Todd's suicide in the documentary, Skyway Down created and produced by Sean Michael Davis.
WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY HERE: Skyway Down
"The film created itself through all the people that were willing to be a part of it," Sean said.
Even for Sean, his reason for creating the film was personal. He witnessed a suicide off the Skyway about ten years ago. Feeling helpless, Sean decided to make a film in hopes of deterring others from making the same devastating decision.
Sean said, "It's not something people want to discuss. That's why I made the film."
Sean met dozens of people through his film and even learned the harsh reality about jumping off the Skyway. It's not quick and painless but rather slow and agonizing. Debbie Korell learned that Todd did not die when he hit the water.
"His spleen ruptured, his liver ruptured, one of his kidneys ruptured. He died from massive internal injuries in the water," Debbie told 10News.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the Skyway is the number one bridge for suicide on the East Coast. In 2016, there were 12 suicides, 24 possible suicides, 6 saves, and 1 survivor. There have been 100 suicides in the last decade.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay offers phone counseling around the clock. Program Manager, Mordecai Dixon told us when a suicide call comes through, everyone in the contact center knows it.
"Each person who calls us has somebody in their life who cares about them," said Dixon.
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