Lawmaker proposes installation of suicide-prevention fence on Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 4:02 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 26, 2014, at 9:05 p.m.
Joe Brooks
Tom Groening | BDN
Joe Brooks

AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Joe Brooks, I-Winterport, has asked legislative leaders to consider a proposal to install a safety fence on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge that would prevent more people from committing suicide by jumping from it.

According to Brooks, the bridge has been the scene of six suicide jumps since it opened in December 2006, including a fifth-grade teacher who police said left a suicide note and died when she jumped from the bridge over the weekend. Other suicides in recent years, according to information compiled by Brooks, included a 14-year-old Stockton Springs boy in 2008, Robert Carlson, a Bangor-area minister in 2011, and a 25-year-old Eddington man and 51-year-old Holden man in 2013. Police also talked a distressed father off the Penobscot Narrows Bridge on Father’s Day in 2013. The bridge that preceded it, the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, was also the site of numerous suicide attempts over the years.

Brooks said Wednesday that he expects the fate of his bill, which is not yet written, to be decided Thursday by the Legislative Council, which holds authority over bills submitted this late in the legislative session. A spokeswoman for Senate President Justin Alfond said Wednesday afternoon that legislative leaders had received the request but that the bill had not yet been placed on the Legislative Council’s agenda.

Brooks said he doesn’t know how much the project would cost, but that doesn’t concern him.

“The cost is not an obstacle,” said Brooks on Wednesday. “To me, it’s about what is the value of saving a human life.”

Brooks is proposing his bill as an emergency measure, which means it would go into effect immediately after enactment, providing the Legislature can find the money to fund it.

The project is not without precedent. In 1983, the state installed an 11-foot-tall safety fence on the Memorial Bridge in Augusta, which had been the site of 14 suicides in 22 years. That fence was removed for about a year for bridge maintenance and it cost the city of Augusta about $350,000 to put it back.

Greg Marley, senior manager of education support at NAMI Maine, said the fence has been a complete success. Since it was erected, there have been no suicides on Memorial Bridge. He cited a 2006 study called “Preventing Suicide By Jumping: The Effect of a Bridge Safety Fence,” which showed that in the 22 years before and after the fence was built, the number of suicides in Augusta by jumping from great heights other than Memorial Bridge stayed constant — nine in each 22-year period.

The study’s author, Andrew Pelletier, gathered data from multiple sources, including death certificates from the State Office of Vital Records, newspaper reports and state medical examiner records.

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