‘This will save lives’: Father who lost son to suicide on Skyway pleased with changes coming to bridge

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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Robert Rivard recalls the exact moment his world changed. 

“He sent me a text message in the morning. Basically what he did, he texted me saying goodbye to the family,” said Rivard. 

Rivard’s 20-year-old son and aspiring model, Chris Machesney, sent him one final text message before jumping from the Sunshine Skyway bridge just days before Thanksgiving in 2018. 

“The thing is I just saw him the night before and bought him a brand new car. So literally, it was a spur of the moment thing. That’s where I go back to that sometimes it’s not always a mental illness thing. Sometimes, people just snap,” said Rivard. 

Unfortunately, Rivard’s story is becoming all too familiar. 

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 18 people – a record number – died by suicide in 2018 by jumping from the Skyway Bridge, falling some 200 feet into the Tampa Bay. 

“When he had passed, I noticed that there was only a three-foot wall there. As I dug into it, I realized that there had been, at that time, 200 something that had killed themselves,” said Rivard.

Since Chris’ death, Rivard has been working around the clock to urge state officials to install suicide barriers. 

Earlier this week, The Florida Department of Transportation announced they will place suicide barriers along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. 

“I am very proud of the fact that they actually got in there to set it up and actually did what they say we were going to do,” said Rivard. 

The $3 million Skyway Vertical Net project will start construction in the summer and take approximately 120 days to install. 

“The bottom line is if you put some things in there, it can deter or give the police – that is more important – give police the opportunity to get there. If they would have had that there, my son would be here today. That is the bottom line, this will save lives,” said Rivard.  

The FDOT previously implemented non-structural suicide deterrence methods including installing six crisis hotline phones to connect with suicide prevention staff, funding 24-hour Florida Highway Patrol coverage, installing cameras to reduce response time and installing signs that say suicide assistance is available. 

FDOT has also implemented pedestrian and stopped vehicle detectors which should reduce response time when motorists park on the bridge. 

If you or someone you love is battling depression or thoughts of suicide, help is always available by calling the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

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