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Family Hopes Quechee Gorge Fence Prevents More Suicides

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Howard Weiss-Tisman
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VPR
David Cooper holds a photo of his son Derek, who was 21 when he jumped off the Quechee Gorge Bridge.

The Agency of Transportation is installing a suicide prevention fence on the Quechee Gorge Bridge.

And for one family it marks the end of years of advocating for the safety measure.
David Cooper, and his wife Regi, never really thought too much about suicide prevention.

But that all changed on July 4, 2011, when their son Derek jumped off the bridge and died at age 21.

“I often think to myself, I would say a couple of times a year, I think, would I be at all involved or even care about suicide mitigation at the Quechee Gorge Bridge if Derek didn’t jump,” David Cooper said. “But, when it happens to your family like that, you become an advocate very quickly, and very strongly.”

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Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
Tracy Hale, From Gainsville, Fla. takes a photo of Quechee Gorge from the side of the bridge that is still open. The fence that is going up will obscure the view once it is in place.

The bridge rises 165 feet over the Quechee Gorge and since 2003 there has been about one suicide per year there.

In the years since his son's death, David Cooper says each time he heard about someone else dying there, it was a trigger that brought back so many feelings and made him want to do something.
 

"I'd like to think that our efforts have saved one life. And if there are no deaths at the gorge from 2018 to whenever I die, however many years from now, I would be very happy to know that no one else took their life at that bridge." - David Cooper, father of Derek Cooper who jumped from the bridge.

“There’s even one witness to his death that suggested that maybe he was trying to climb back over the railing,” Cooper said. “So he may have had second thoughts. So that’s just it, it’s too easy to go over that railing, and not have it be very effective. And many other people have come over the years to that site because it’s that easy.”

Cooper and his wife began contacting local and state officials a few years after their son died.

They traveled to the Statehouse to testify in legislative committees, and attended local meetings in Hartford.

Quechee Gorge is the most visited state park in Vermont, and there was some pushback at first from store and motel owners who were afraid that a fence would obstruct the view.

But the Coopers kept pushing.

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Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
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VPR
The Vermont Agency of Transportation is installing a chain link fence on the Quechee Gorge Bridge.

Last year the Legislature put out a report committing the state to doing something to prevent any more deaths at the Quechee Gorge Bridge.

There were more meetings, and design studies, and delays.

And this week construction began on the fence.

“I’d like to think that our efforts have saved one life,” said Cooper. “And if there are no deaths at the gorge from 2018 to whenever I die, however many years from now, I would be very happy to know that no one else took their life at that bridge.”

The chain link fence that’s going up is considered a temporary fix because the Quechee Gorge Bridge will be completely rebuilt and updated in the next few years.

But state officials say that when the bridge is rebuilt it will include a permanent suicide prevention fence.

Here are some resources if you or someone you know is considering suicide:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line & Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Vermont Suicide Prevention Center: http://vtspc.org/
  • In emergency situations, call 911.
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