Strive to stop bridge suicides

Sunrise over the Ravenel Bridge. (Dave Munday/File)

During 2015, at least six people jumped to their deaths from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

One of those deaths last February is providing momentum for meaningful efforts to slow, or stop, others.

The Charleston Legislative Delegation should seriously consider supporting these ideas.

Jules Mappus was 20 when he parked his car in the southbound lane atop the bridge, climbed over a 32-inch barrier and jumped. His heartbroken parents, Butler and Dick Mappus, have made it their mission to do two things: to have cameras installed to record what happens on the bridge and to make it more difficult or impossible for people to actually jump.

The cameras aren’t intended as a deterrent, but a way to determine what actually happens on the span. In the Mappuses’ case, it was two and a half weeks before their son’s body was found. In the meantime, they held out hope because Jules had been a happy, popular and well-adjusted person. Maybe things weren’t as they seemed. Camera footage would have spared them that uncertainty.

The Mappuses have made headway on this front. A company has indicated it will donate two cameras as well as the Cloud space for storing the video for a few weeks or a month. The Charleston Police Department has agreed to manage the video. All that is pending is for the state Department of Transportation to install them.

The Mappuses’ other idea has been slower-going. At first, they asked that the bridge rail on the southbound side of the Ravenel bridge be extended to 72 inches, the height of the barrier on the northbound side.

The change would discourage someone intent upon suicide, or at least slow him down and give him more time to reconsider. His parents say that Jules, for example, probably made an impulsive decision. Given more time, he might have changed his mind.

They have been told that engineers believe that such a barrier extension would cause wind to tunnel and damage the structure.

But they have what might be an even better idea that bridges in San Francisco and New Jersey have used: a metal mesh net under the bridge that would catch someone who jumps.

It is certainly worth the S.C. DOT gathering information about what that would cost and how effective it would be. The Charleston Legislative Delegation should push for the review.

Since the Ravenel bridge was opened, more than 20 people have jumped from it to their deaths. The coroner’s office has no way of counting people who jumped, but whose bodies were never found.

If a simple metal net could keep that number from growing, it would be a worthy and compassionate investment.