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USF students, alum petition to add fencing in parking garages after death investigation

While it may not prevent all suicides, petitioners said the extra barrier doesn't hurt.

TAMPA, Fla. — Bethany Mistretta woke up around 3 a.m. to an empty bed on Dec. 27, 2021.

Her husband Mark Mistretta was gone. His car couldn't be found but the garage door was open.

"It led to a series of panic stricken phone calls to my sister, the police, my therapist," Bethany said.

Moments later, she said a police officer knocked on her door. She had been told that Mark's car was found at the top of a parking garage and his body on the ground.

On Friday, police reported a similar incident at the Richard A. Beard parking garage. 

"It took me back to that moment of initially finding out and that horrendous feeling," Bethany said.

Since the recent death investigation, two online petitions calling for the University of South Florida to add fencing barriers around parking garages are circulating.

USF alumni Frank Cirillo said he organized a petition in 2019 after he learned about another death from the garage. 

"It's just one small thing that we can do in a larger discussion about mental health," Cirillo said.

Supporters of the petition said they understand fencing won't prevent all suicides. However, Cirillo said it may further deter people from ending their lives.

Cirillo said while it's unfortunate another person has fallen to their death, he hopes it will spread awareness on the need for the fencing installation. 

Bethany had been together with her husband for 20 years. They met as students at USF.

Mark had struggled with depression and anxiety, she said. He had just been Baker Acted not too long before his death.

"He so desperately wanted to help and he just couldn't get it for various reasons," Bethany said. 

For her, the calls for fencing brings her hope that the community is taking mental health seriously, she said. However, she said the solution is much larger than adding barriers. 

"I think it definitely can save lives. We've seen that in regards to the Skyway Bridge," Bethany said. "The solution is much larger than that and goes deeper than that. And it's really more of a holistic approach we need."

Credit: Bethany Mistretta
Bethany Mistretta (left) and Mark Mistretta (right)

Bethany said resources for mental health services need to be more readily available and the messaging must be more visible. She's hoping more effective communication will allow people to seek help from all demographics.

While Bethany's grief continues, she said seeking help from therapy and taking care of her family gives her hope. 

She wants to remind others that help is available. 

In a statement, USF wrote:

"The health, well-being and safety of our students is a top priority for the University of South Florida.  USF offers a wide range of programs, resources and services to support the university community, including the recent launch of a new partnership with TimelyCare that gives students 24/7 access to mental health care services and the addition of a new chief health officer position.  The university will continue to explore additional steps to support the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff."

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is urged to reach out for help. You can contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211 or call 911. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 800-799-7233. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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