Sui­cide Preven­tion

Middletown, Port­land in­stall sui­cide hot­line mes­sages on Ar­rigoni Bridge

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Shawn R. Beals sbeals@courant.com

New signs on the Ar­rigoni Bridge in Middletown of­fer hope, and help, to any­one con­sid­er­ing jump­ing into the Con­necti­cut River.

MIDDLETOWN – Sui­cide preven­tion signs have been in­stalled on the Ar­rigoni Bridge, of­fer­ing a mes­sage of safety to peo­ple who are con­sid­er­ing taking their own life.

Middletown and Port­land have each hung signs on their sides of the bridge dis­play­ing the hot­line num­bers to call or text in a cri­sis. Also shown is a web ad­dress to the state’s sui­cide preven­tion ef­fort, pre­ventsui­cidect.org.

The blue signs say “THERE IS HOPE, THERE IS HELP” and are dis­played along the side­walks run­ning along both sides of the Ar­rigoni. Peo­ple can call the 24-hour free help line at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.

Mayor Daniel Drew an­nounced in Septem­ber that he had re­ceived con­fir­ma­tion from the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion that they would be adding safety fenc­ing to the struc­ture, and would also al­low the towns to hang the signs.

Andrea Duarte, be­hav­ioral health pro­gram man­ager at the state Depart­ment of

Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices, said health pro­fes­sion­als have been meet­ing with the DOT and some of its con­trac­tors to talk about high-risk ar­eas in the state that could ben­e­fit from sui­cide preven­tion mea­sures.

Re­duc­ing ac­cess to ar­eas like bridges and rail­road cross­ings has been a pri­or­ity, but let­ting peo­ple know about the re­sources avail­able to them is just as im­por­tant, she said.

“Over­all, bar­ri­ers are go­ing to pre­vent some­one from go­ing over the bridge. You pre­vent some­one from mak­ing the at­tempt in the first place,” Duarte said. “The sig­nage is re­ally big, too. When some­one is in that frame of mind, a lit­eral sign can be taken as a fig­u­ra­tive sign. Just hap­pen­ing upon the sign is enough to say ‘The universe is telling me I shouldn’t do this.’”

Fenc­ing will be in­stalled as part of a $37 mil­lion re­con­struc­tion of the “ap­proaches” to the bridge — the el­e­vated road­way that con­nects lo­cal streets to the main bridge span.

The cen­ter sec­tion of the fa­mous dou­ble-arched bridge was re­built in 2012, and fenc­ing will be added there too. Drew said the safety fence will be sim­i­lar to mea­sures in place on New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge.

While the DOT is still plan­ning out the ma­jor work to be­gin next year, signs are a low-cost and po­ten­tially high-im­pact op­tion, of­fi­cials said.

Middletown pub­lic works em­ploy­ees in­stalled two signs Fri­day morn­ing. Post­ing them for peo­ple who might be con­sid­er­ing harm­ing them­selves had a spe­cial mean­ing for Joe Barone, the depart­ment’s paint and traf­fic su­per­vi­sor, whose close friend died in a sui­cide on the bridge.

“I lost a good friend of mine here,” Barone said Fri­day morn­ing af­ter bolt­ing in the sec­ond marker. “I come up here and I’ve got chills right now. It means a lot to me.”

He said the work gave him hope that other peo­ple’s fam­i­lies won’t have to go through the same pain his friend’s fam­ily did.

“I think this is a good start, hope­fully it can pre­vent a lot of peo­ple from do­ing things they re­ally can’t con­trol. I’m 100 per­cent for th­ese signs,” Barone said. “If this can save one life, we’ve done our job.”

Safety mea­sures be­came an ur­gent topic in 2015 af­ter Tony Moreno threw his 7-month-old son Aaden from the bridge then jumped over the rail­ing as po­lice ar­rived on the scene.

Drew re­quested a meet­ing with the state af­ter Aaden’s death, and he said the city and the DOT have been work­ing on so­lu­tions since then.

He said Fri­day that sum­mer in­tern Carmine Grippo put in a lot of work ear­lier this year to fi­nal­ize the agree­ment be­tween the towns and the DOT. The plans also re­quired co­or­di­na­tion with Port­land of­fi­cials.

“Th­ese signs are a re­minder to peo­ple that their lives are im­por­tant and that there’s some­one they can turn to in a mo­ment of de­spon­dency,” Drew said. “If it saves one life, then it’s worth it.”

PA­TRICK RAYCRAFT/HARTFORD COURANT

Middletown pub­lic works em­ploy­ees Joe Barone, right, and Se­bas­tian An­nino in­stall sui­cide preven­tion signs Fri­day morn­ing on the Ar­rigoni Bridge in Middletown. The state DOT ap­proved the signs as an in­terim step as it pre­pares to in­stall fenc­ing and other mea­sures as part of a ma­jor bridge con­struc­tion project start­ing next year. Sui­cide preven­tion of­fi­cials said sig­nage can be a de­ter­rent just by mak­ing some­one think about the step they’re about to take.

PA­TRICK RAYCRAFT/ HARTFORD COURANT

The Middletown depart­ment of pub­lic works in­stalled two sui­cide preven­tion signs Fri­day morn­ing on the Ar­rigoni Bridge.

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