Sedona bridge focus of suicide prevention fight

Posted at 9:47 AM, Mar 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-26 12:48:08-04

A steel arch bridge amid a landscape known for its red rock formations has become the focus of a mental health and suicide prevention campaign after an increase in jumpers.

Four people died after jumping from the historic Midgely Bridge last year -- twice as many as any other year in the past decade.

The parking lot next to the bridge now has a sign showing a hotline number for those contemplating suicide. The sign went up in September, and more are on the way.

City officials are urging the Arizona Department of Transportation to look into other options so that the site doesn't gain the same notoriety of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in northern New Mexico.

"What we're trying to do is throw a lifeline," Coconino County sheriff's Chief Deputy Jim Driscoll said. "If someone is there thinking about it, maybe they'll just stop and call the number. Maybe they just need someone to listen to them."

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is incorporated into Sedona's logo. It spans a chasm off Oak Creek Canyon with a rock formation that resembles a steamboat in the background.

Local officials have been talking about ways to stem the number of people who kill themselves at the bridge.

The Mental Health Coalition Verde Valley formed a suicide prevention task force for increased awareness of mental health issues and training on crisis situations. The mayor and the fire district in Sedona reached out to the state, which owns the bridge, and suggested fencing along it or netting between it and the rocky ground below.

"There has to be some recognition at the state level that there is an absolute opportunity to mitigate the impact, whether it be as far reaching as expanding spending on mental health research or some sort of barrier device," Sedona Fire Division Chief Ed Mezulis said.

Transportation spokesman Dustin Krugel said the department is committed to promoting safety but would have to consider the historical and structural limitations of the bridge in deciding what steps to take.

Barbara Litrell, facilitator at the Mental Health Coalition, said the group is working with the community to talk to school children, residents and organizations about the effects of mental illness and warnings signs for suicide.

"So much of the work has to happen before they get to the bridge," she said. "The bridge is almost like it's too late."