Vista Bridge suicide barrier personal, complex

From, July 25, 2013

Robert Waltrip and Rachelle Rock are still dealing with emotions that are incredibly raw. They think about things their daughter won’t experience.

“Her first prom dance, her first date,” Robert Hamblin-Rock said. “Makes a father very angry, very, very angry. I’d do anything to bring her back, anything.”

Marina Hamblin-Rock killed herself in June by jumping off the Vista Bridge. She was 15.

Her parents blame bullying for their daughter’s death. And they fully support the move to put up fencing as a suicide barrier over the bridge.

An estimated 174 people have jumped off the bridge since it opened in 1926, according to Lines for Life, a nonprofit group that tackles substance abuse and suicide.

Four people jumped to their death this year from the Vista Bridge. Commissioner Steve Novick declared an emergency and ordered a temporary fence installed until a permanent one can be.

“I know there has been a battle for a long time about this,” Rachelle Rock told KOIN 6 News.

Three weeks after Marina’s death, the interim director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation sent a letter to Novick that said the suicides at the bridge had reached an emergency status and asked Novick to order the temporary fencing.

Novick did, authorizing the money under a portion of the city code that allows for expenditures in such emergencies. The temporary fence will cost $236,000 and will come out of PBOT’s operating funds.

“We do need the funds for street maintenance,” Novick said, “but we concluded too many people have died.”

Some in the mental health community, like Tom Parker, applaud the decision.

“Giving that moment pause, that interruption, is everything,” he said.

But others, like Jason Renaud, think it’s a waste of money.

“[Putting the fence up is] going to gain political attention,” he said. Renaud is the president of the advocacy group, Mental Health Association of Portland. “If the city of Portland is going to get involved in suicide prevention, get involved with professionals — not in response to concerned neighbors.”

The key, he said, is putting that money into mental health services.

Novick stands by his decision.

“All the counseling in the world doesn’t prevent some people from impulsively committing suicide and this bridge has become unfortunately a magnet for suicides,” he said.

Similar suicide barriers have stopped suicides on bridges in Toronto, the District of Columbia, and Augusta, Maine.

But there is the argument that people who are stopped from killing themselves at one spot will simply go elsewhere or use a different method.

The results are mixed. KOIN 6 News found studies that both prove that theory wrong and studies that support it.

“We have officers that have talked people off of the Vista Bridge,” said PPB Sgt. Pete Simpson. “We have officers that have talked people off of lots of other bridges in town.”

While they don’t have official numbers, Portland police estimate they’re called out about once a week to a bridge or building to talk to someone who’s threatening to jump.

They support the idea of fencing the Vista Bridge.

“That bridge draws people to it and that location,” Simpson said.

Marina Hamblin-Rock lived in Aloha and her family said she had no other reason to be near the Vista Bridge the day she jumped and died.

“I don’t even know how she figured out how to get there. I don’t even know how to get there,” her mother said.

The issue is now personal for them.

“Every time I’m going to hear about a suicide off of that bridge from now on I’m always going to think about my baby sister that I miss so much,” said Chris Hamblin-Rock.

The family agrees with many in the mental health field who believe a momentary pause can make all the difference in the world. They think it would have made a difference for Marina, and they wonder why something wasn’t done sooner.

The temporary fencing is coming. The city of Portland is looking to apply for grants to help it pay for permanent barriers, which could cost around $3 million.

A private fundraising effort is underway to help defray the cost.