When 47-year-old Lisa Belsom of River Ridge left her house last Wednesday, she told her father that she was going to jump off the Hale Boggs Bridge.
Later, at around 8:26 p.m., witnesses reported seeing a woman jump from the Luling bridge into the Mississippi River. The next day, Belsom’s body was found in Plaquemines Parish, said Plaquemines Parish Chief Investigator Charles Guey. An autopsy determined she died on impact from “multiple blunt force injuries related to a fall.”
The fact that Belson, and several others, have resorted to jumping off the Luling bridge in order to end their lives has raised questions about whether anything can be done to prevent the deaths.
It is estimated there are 125 suicides a year in the United States where people jump off of a bridge. Barriers have been added in an effort to prevent these suicides in some states. Louisiana is not one of them, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
“It’s unfortunate that public infrastructure is sometimes used in the most unfortunate of ways and not for what it was designed for,” said DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett. “However, at this time we don’t have plans to install any other safety measures other than what’s in place. State bridges are designed to meet the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) safety standards and are designed for driver safety.”
Pedestrians are not supposed to be on the interstate bridges or shoulders unless it’s for emergency use, Mallett added. The railings on the bridges are designed for the safety of pedestrians who may be in an emergency situation.
“Our safety section evaluates safety data from across the state and we prioritize how we use these funds based on the needs of the traveling public (vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists) on the roadways,” he said.
Last year, a deputy witnessed a man jump over the railing of the bridge to the Mississippi River below, but his ease at accessing the bridge wasn’t considered “a design issue,” according to authorities. Seven people have jumped off the Hale Boggs Bridge since 2012.
“It’s unfortunate that public infrastructure is sometimes used in the most unfortunate of ways and not for what it was designed for.” — Rodney Mallett
In San Francisco, following nearly a decade of debate over whether a bridge barrier would work on the Golden Gate Bridge, officials initiated work on a four-year project to install a $200 million stainless steel net along the bridge. Anticipated to be in place by 2021, it is being located 20 feet down from the bridge’s sidewalk, extending 20 feet over the water.
Part of the justification for the net was a study of the bridge showing 90 percent of those prevented from jumping did not commit suicide at a later date.
Officials hope the net will deter people from trying to jump off the bridge. Even if they do, the net’s upward slope is expected to catch jumpers so they can be retrieved by the bridge district.
St. Charles Parish Councilman Paul Hogan doesn’t believe barriers will help solve the issue.
“The bottom line is if someone wants to kill themselves, they will do it one way or another,” Hogan said. “They will find a way to kill themselves. So the safety net will catch them … what if they climb to the edge and jump off? Then what do you do?”
He advocates providing mental health services, as well as educating the public on how to identify warning signs shown by those dealing with issues that might lead to suicide.
“People need to be made aware of what to look for in people with issues,” Hogan said. “Sometimes people show issues or they hide them very well.”
The councilman recounted a relative in Florida who had a good job, two kids and showed no signs of suicidal behavior. His wife later discovered her husband’s body after he hung himself in another room at their home.
“You can ban bridges or buildings or trees where they can jump, but it’s about personal responsibilities and problems,” Hogan said.