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Mother calls for screen to stop bridge jumpers

Last Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2008 | 12:02 PM AT

A Nova Scotia woman is calling for a full barrier across a busy Halifax bridge to prevent suicide deaths like that of her son.

More than six months after Adam Cashen's death, Carol Cashen says she believes her son "was one of those that could have been saved."

Carol Cashen of Tantallon says a full barrier on the Macdonald Bridge could have saved her son's life. Carol Cashen of Tantallon says a full barrier on the Macdonald Bridge could have saved her son's life.
(CBC)

Cashen told CBC News Wednesday Adam was a typical 19-year old — active, fun and smart — and the family had no warning that things were about to go tragically wrong.

But in the early hours of July 26, Adam stood on the walkway of the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. He tried to call some of his friends but no one answered. He sent a text message to his mother. After a while, he climbed the railing and jumped.

Cashen's phone beeped. She picked it up and saw the text message from Adam.

Adam Cashen's family believes he was on the bridge for 40 minutes. Adam Cashen's family believes he was on the bridge for 40 minutes.
(Cashen family)

"He said he was sorry and that he loved me," she said.

Cashen said her son was impulsive and didn't think before he acted.

"I think he went for a walk that morning and he became upset and … the bridge was there. I think if there was a barrier there we wouldn't be sitting here today talking about it," she said.

The idea of a screen to prevent people from jumping off bridges has been implemented elsewhere. A steel barrier was installed on the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal in 2004. Last year, officials installed cages to stop climbers.

There's also a barrier over the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, which has eliminated suicides there, said Carol Tooton, with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Nova Scotia.

There is a partial screen on the bridge to protect DND workers below. There is a partial screen on the bridge to protect DND workers below.
(CBC)

Tooton believes a similar structure could make a difference in Halifax.

"We know that from research that if we can limit an individual's access to the means by which they can do self-harm, then we're going to be possibly eliminating a suicide," she said.

There is a partial barrier on the Macdonald Bridge. The Department of National Defence requested it to protect workers directly below from falling objects.

Can't extend barrier: commission

Steve Snider, general manager and CEO of the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission, said it's not possible to extend the barrier.

"A combination of the weight load and the resulting wind load doesn't permit us to do that," said Snider.

A pedestrian walks by the partial barrier extending over a section of the Macdonald Bridge.A pedestrian walks by the partial barrier extending over a section of the Macdonald Bridge.
(CBC)

The bridge commission isn't talking about Adam's case. Neither will it say how many people have jumped from the bridge, citing a concern that doing so could lead to copycat cases.

However, Halifax Regional Police have received 32 calls about suicide attempts on the Macdonald Bridge and seven relating to suicides in the last three years, according to a report in The Coast. And a commission document obtained by the magazine refers to the bridge as a "hot-spot" for suicidal behaviour.

Carol Cashen believes her son was on the bridge for about 40 minutes, and she said there were other missed opportunities to help Adam that day.

She said she was told the cameras were not able to spot Adam because of where he was standing, and while the bridge commission was notified about him being distraught, a vehicle sent by the commission didn't find him.

"I just believe that there needs to be something in place [so] that the bridge isn't as attractive as it is to people thinking of suicide," Cashen said.

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