County News

The Arizona Department of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to attempt to reduce the number of suicides off Midgley Bridge.

In recent months ADOT has received input from the city of Sedona, Sedona Fire District and Coconino County as well as individuals and groups urging the state to install some type of fencing or barriers on the 77-year-old bridge.

The state listened.

Sedona Community Development Director Audree Juhlin said ADOT contacted the city a few weeks back in regard to a letter sent from Mayor Sandy Moriarty on behalf of the Sedona City Council.

“I believe there are things that we can do together as a community to tackle this problem, including the installation of suicide-prevention barriers at Midgley Bridge,” Juhlin said. “Working with ADOT, U.S. Forest Service, emergency response agencies and the community, we can make a difference and significantly reduce suicide incidents at this location.”

In Moriarty’s letter to ADOT Director John Halikowski, she wrote in part, “Unfortunately, there has been a marked rise in these events recently which has garnered media attention. We are concerned that, despite local community efforts, there will continue to be loss of life. Not only is the loss of life tragic, but the profound effect on our community and our emergency providers who respond to these events cannot be measured.”

The second half of 2015 saw four suicides off Midgley Bridge — two men and two women — on Aug. 27, Oct. 5, Oct, 25 and Dec. 6. In each case, first responders from Coconino County Sheriff’s Office [the lead agency on cases at the bridge], Sedona Fire District and Sedona Police Department all assisted on these calls.  

Juhlin said Halikowski and members of his staff want to meet next month with city, county and fire officials to see what can be done. She said in talks with ADOT, they aren’t sure where the money will come from but that the state is committed to doing something.

No design has even been discussed yet, but she said options could include curved fencing atop the bridge, similar to what can be seen on overpasses in large cities. Another would be netting placed below the bridge. But with any type of barrier, Juhlin said aesthetics and the fact the bridge is a national landmark have to be taken into consideration.

ADOT spokesman Steve Elliott said as part of the agency’s commitment to develop and maintain a safe transportation system for everyone, ADOT is committed to working with the community to address suicides at Midgley Bridge.  

“This collaboration has already led to a plan to incorporate additional suicide-prevention signs at the bridge, and together we continue looking for other possible responses,” he said. “Recently, ADOT representatives and city officials had preliminary discussions about potential changes to Midgley Bridge that, among other options, include the possibility of adding fencing. While fencing acts as an additional barrier and a possible deterrent, suicide prevention is a more complex issue requiring a broad response.”

Elliott went on to say that a final decision on fencing or any other change to the bridge will be developed in collaboration not just with city but with the U.S. Forest Service and the State Historic Preservation Office because of the bridge’s location and historic status. The structural limitations of the bridge must be assessed, along with the cost of any proposed changes.

Prior to the city’s letter to ADOT, Sedona Fire District Governing Board Chairman Ty Montgomery also sent a letter on behalf of the district. SFD Chief Kris Kazian said the district gives credit to local community members and groups that have focused on awareness and prevention activities related to mental health and suicide. And, their dedication to the residents and visitors has not gone unnoticed.

“Sedona Fire District is concerned for everyone’s safety,” he said. “By our board sending a letter expressing their concern, to the first responders who work tirelessly to promote safety and wellness, we applaud ADOT for being responsive and taking a look at feasible options for Midgley Bridge. We look forward to being part of the process and we all have a common vision in this matter.”

Even though the bridge is owned by ADOT, it sits in Coconino County, falls within SFD’s jurisdiction and because of its proximity to Sedona, SPD officers are normally the first on the scene. In addition, the parking area at the bridge is owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

“In this case, you’re dealing with so many different agencies that even erecting signs has to run the gamut of the approval process,” CCSO’s Chief Deputy Jim Driscoll said in an interview last year with the Sedona Red Rock News.

In that interview, Driscoll said there had been discussion on a variety of ways to help reduce the number of suicides off the bridge. But time will tell to what extent it may help.

“Fencing may make it a little more difficult for them but it may not prevent them from still going through with it,” he said, noting that they may jump elsewhere or try another form of suicide.

“It’s definitely an unfortunate thing. We, in law enforcement, are seeing more suicide attempts as well as completed suicides than in other years.”


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