Rocks to deter suicides deemed a danger

It was a nice thought, but a bad idea.

A Skagit County group made TV news this week after the members left piles of rocks painted with inspirational messages on Deception Pass Bridge in hopes they might dissuade suicidal people from jumping.

Officials at the state Department of Transportation, however, removed the colorful rocks because of concerns about the potential danger of having a bunch of stones on the bridge’s narrow walkway, according to a spokesperson.

People could stumble on the rocks, throw them into traffic, kick them or drop them off the bridge, where they would fall 180 feet to swirling waters where boats are omnipresent.

The scenic, Depression-era bridge has long been a destination for suicidal people from across the region.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said he’s had jurisdiction over 17 cases since 2013 in which people have died from leaping off the bridge.

There have been three so far this year.

In one of the tragic cases, a trooper with the Washington State Patrol and a park ranger were waiting on the bridge for a despondent man who said he was driving there. The man spotted the responders while driving across the bridge; he leaped from his still-moving car and off the bridge before they could stop him.

Most of the people who jump from the bridge travel from areas other than Whidbey Island, according to the coroner’s office.

The bridge stretches between Island and Skagit counties. Bishop handles cases in which bodies are pulled from the water because the boats return to Cornet Bay; jurisdiction is determined by where the bodies are brought to shore, according to the coroner.

In cases where bodies aren’t recovered, the coroner is able to issue a presumptive death certificate if requested by a family member.

Bishop explained that the number of people who’ve jumped from the bridge is probably higher than 17 in five years.

The Skagit County coroner has jurisdiction if a body doesn’t end up in the water but lands on the beach on the Skagit side. And there may be cases in which people jumped from the bridge at night and nobody knows about it.

A Good Samaritan who placed the painted rocks on the bridge said she was inspired by a teenager who put up inspirational signs on a bridge in England to prevent suicides, according to King5 TV.

The Department of Transportation spokeswoman said in an email that non-permanent signs or memorials are not allowed on the bridge and there are no immediate plans to put up permanent signs.

“Any proposal would need to be coordinated with WSDOT,” she wrote.

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