Safeguarding the Skyway: Construction set to begin on Skyway Bridge suicide barrier

Pinellas County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and in Tampa Bay, there is a place where hundreds have chosen to end their life.

Florida will finally take action to safeguard the Sunshine Skyway Bridge starting next month.

Robert Irons is a proud father of a daughter that he describes as beautiful, outgoing and very smart. He has many good memories of Melanie – who was loved by so many – and one bad memory that breaks his heart.

Robert was in Walmart in December of 2018 when his phone rang. It was Melanie, calling from the Skyway Bridge. She told Robert that she had “done a lot of things wrong.”

He knew she needed help right away.

So Robert raced to her rescue and saw her truck at the top of the bridge. They made eye contact.

“I wasn’t but maybe 25 to 30 feet from her. She popped out of the truck and never even hesitated. She went over the wall,” he said. “I can still picture her face and her arms, holding onto the wall and then she went over it.”

Melanie fell to her death like too many before.

“If there would have been a fence, a barrier or something, I could have got my hands onto her,” said Robert.

He says he still sees his daughter every time he goes across the bridge.

Construction will begin in June on a $3 million suicide barrier. The barrier will be made up of a vertical stainless steel net extending 8 feet above the concrete barriers on both sides of the bridge. It will stretch on for about a mile and a half.

Finally, there will be something on the bridge to prevent – or at the very least slow down – a troubled soul’s impulse to jump.

“I think the family that will be helped will be very happy that it will save their loved one from making a mistake like my daughter did,” Robert said. “It was a mistake. She had people who loved her.”

Florida currently has a trooper assigned to patrol the Skyway 24-7 and signs are placed on the bridge encouraging people to call for help.

But, what took so long to install a barrier?

The Florida Department of Transportation told 8 On Your Side that netting would have precluded the use of equipment needed to inspect and maintain the bridge in years past. But technological advances have now made it possible to install the skyway vertical net.

It is scheduled to be in place in September, a few months before the second anniversary of Melanie’s death.

If you are thinking about taking your life, take a minute and call 211. It’s a 24-hour hotline, just for you. It puts you in touch with someone at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

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