NewsPinellas County


Sunshine Skyway Bridge fencing helping to prevent suicides

Tampa's Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Fencing along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa
Closeup photo of the fencing on Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Posted at 5:19 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 18:37:41-04

PINELLAS, Fla. — It’s what many know as a beautiful gateway to Tampa Bay, but it also has a dark side. At 200 feet high, the Sunshine Skyway bridge is one of the top suicide bridges in the country.

It's something that Florida Highway Patrol Corporal Tabarie Sullivan knows all too well.

"It's been a very dramatic experience for the subject as well as myself," said Sullivan.

Sullivan said in his three years of patrolling the bridge; he’s encountered close to 30 jumpers. He said sometimes he’s been able to talk them down, and sometimes not.

"There have been moments when they’ve decided to take their life and jump off," said Sullivan.

More than 250 people have died since 1987 by jumping from the bridge; averaging close to suicide a month. But this year, there has been just one suicide death from the bridge.

"I do believe that relates directly to the fencing," said Sullivan.

Construction of an 8-feet high fence that lines both sides of the bridge is now finished. Built on top of the concrete barrier that already existed; now the fence is a total of 11-feet high.

"It's marine-grade stainless steel that’s very weather-resistant, yet it's light enough that it doesn’t block the view to the bay," said James Jacobsen, the project engineer.

Jacobsen said the purpose of the $3.4 million project, which is funded through the toll system, is to prevent people from jumping.

"It goes over three miles, over a mile and a half on each side, which is pretty much getting back to the water level of the bridge," said Jacobsen.

The fencing seems to already be working but call boxes still exist on the bridge that phone right into the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

"While this is an incredible barrier, if somebody is suicidal, this alone is not going to stop them," said Clara Reynolds of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. "It is so important for anyone in our community who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, who is feeling this sense of despair or desperation, that they know they can reach out for help."

If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide call 2-1-1 in the Tampa Bay area for help, or the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.