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Authorities Put Anti-Suicide Phones On Tappan Zee

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (CBS/AP) ― Suicide prevention telephones have been activated on the approaches to one of the country's largest bridges in hopes that people intent on jumping to their deaths can be dissuaded by one last human voice.

More than 25 people have made fatal jumps from the Tappan Zee Bridge into the Hudson River in the past 10 years, the state Thruway Authority said.

The four phones -- two each on the Rockland and Westchester county sides -- provide direct links to the Lifeline suicide prevention hot line, which would connect callers to counselors at LifeNet or Covenant House, the authority said Tuesday. State troopers stationed in Tarrytown would be sent to the phones.

Above each telephone is a sign that says, "When it seems like there is no hope, there is help."

"We're trying to help people who at that last moment might say, `You know, I'd like another chance,"' said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. "There's a great deal of ambivalence that people feel up to the moment they jump or even after they jump. Survivors have told us, `The moment I jumped I wish I hadn't."'

Gary Spielmann, a consultant to the state Bridge Authority, said, "Many individuals who attempt to jump from bridges are deeply ambivalent about dying, and the placement of phones on bridges is a way of reaching those individuals and reassuring them that life is worth living."

"The human voice and presence," he added, "is the best way of connecting these individuals to the services available."

The 3-mile-long Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, which opened in 1955, has no walkway. Would-be suicides tend to drive to midspan, stop their cars in an outside lane, scale the barrier and jump, said Ramesh Mehta, the Thruway's regional director.

Suicide prevention phones are in use on many spans around the country. The state Bridge Authority, which operates five Hudson River bridges north of the Tappan Zee, installed Lifeline phones on four bridges this year, "and in the last month, we already have two confirmed saves," said spokesman John Bellucci.

"People picked up the phone, were contemplating suicide, talked to counselors, and police were able to take them to hospitals, where they received the help they needed," he said.

The fifth bridge, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, linking Poughkeepsie and Highland, has had radio phones for 23 years with a link to the Dutchess County Office of Mental Hygiene. Bellucci said 70 people had used the phones in that time and only one of them had jumped. Seven people who did not call also jumped, he said.

Some experts feel bigger barricades would be more efficient than phones at preventing suicides, but they present structural and maintenance issues and are much more expensive, Bellucci said.

(© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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