FERRIER FILES: Coalition hopes to add safety device to what some call 'suicide bridge'

Photo: FOX 17 News

It might be the most beautiful bridge in all of middle Tennessee, but the Natchez Trace double arch bridge has some people calling it another name: suicide bridge.

The Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition will tell you there are almost more national park suicides right here at the Natchez Trace Parkway than any other national park in the country.

32 people have jumped off this double arched concrete bridge since 2000. Scary numbers, but so much more than numbers. These were people.

“His name was John. He was 17. He was just the type of son you imagine when you think of having a son. He was a beautiful kid, sweet generous, a national merit scholar,” said his mom Trish Merelo.

John Miller had a full scholarship waiting for him at the University of Alabama. Nevertheless, it was important to him to have perfect attendance at Brentwood High School until January 29, 2016.

“I woke to the alarm on his phone. His wallet was next to his phone. The car was gone. I knew. I just knew," Merelo said.

John had battled suicidal thoughts since the 7th grade. His mom had done everything she could think of counseling, medication, more counseling, different medication. There were ups and down but John was hanging on until that morning he drove to the bridge.

“Suicidal crisis is timely, you might have suicidal thoughts for years, but the actual moment, that’s what we are talking about the moment, with this method there is no second chance," Merelo said.

If you take pills, sometimes there's time to call 911. If you think of hanging yourself, there may be trouble figuring out the knot or the set-up. Without access to a gun, it’s hard to shoot.

But this bridge seems easy and rarely patrolled. And yes, the presence of other people can change everything.

Just a few months ago, a student was ready to jump.

This Williamson County deputy stepped into that darkness and pulled the student out. Dashcam video shows the deputy saving the student's life.

Would he have jumped and lost his life? He was ready with his backpack, laptop, and phone already tossed over the edge.

Therefore, the Bridge Barrier Coalition wants to add a safety device to the bridge, maybe a steel net that juts out 20 feet or raise the three-foot rail to nine or 10 feet.

The Golden Gate Bridge did it without ruining its beauty. A UT senior engineering class senior project is trying to design something to make it harder to commit suicide here.

Center Stone Mental Health Care and Addiction Facilities suicide expert Becky Stoll agrees that something needs to be done and it doesn't have to ruin the beauty of the bridge.

“I don't think we must make the bridge unattractive, but can we do something to make it safer and still be aesthetically pleasing,” said Stoll.

Stoll said one of the hopeful statistics in suicide prevention is that if you take away a popular bridge, suicides don't increase on nearby bridges.

“If you take away access to these easy lethal ways to die. You buy people time. Our question is what number is too many," questioned Merelo.

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