Aug 2, 2023 - News

USF moves forward with parking garage fencing after multiple suicides

Photo: Courtesy of the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida will install a protective fence this month at Richard A. Beard Garage, where three people have died by suicide in less than four years.

Why it matters: The installation comes a month after the university reported an "apparent suicide" at the parking garage in July β€” nine months after a similar incident at the same facility.

State of play: USF is adding fencing on the top floors of five parking garages across its Tampa and St. Pete campuses β€” part of a plan announced last year to address suicides. The plan initially focused on four parking garages in Tampa before including the St. Pete garage last month.

  • The first phase included planting "buffering landscape," like large trees and shrubs, on the ground level of the building and putting suicide prevention signs on the upper levels. It was completed this year, USF spokesperson Althea Johnson told Axios.
  • The university also placed a yellow bench with support resources listed on it at the top level of the Richard A. Beard Garage to raise awareness about mental health.

Details: Fences will go at the top of Richard A. Beard Garage and Crescent Hill Garage this month; the other three garages will have fences by October.

  • Phase Three will put fencing between floors at each garage by Spring 2024.

Yes, but: Students and alumni told Axios the university should have acted sooner.

Flashback: Frank Cirillo, a 2016 USF graduate, started a petition in 2019 calling for the university to fence parking facilities across its campuses.

  • He spoke up after learning of a woman's suicide at Richard A. Beard Garage in October of that year; Cirillo felt USF needed to take steps to prevent more deaths.
  • Victoria Abernathy, a USF student, created a petition after another person died in September 2022, noting that the incident was "traumatizing" for onlookers. USF announced its parking garage plan shortly after.

What they're saying: "Timing was of the essence," Abernathy told Axios. "It is disheartening to know someone's life could have been saved."

  • "It should have been done in a more proactive way," Cirillo said. "The university should have done something sooner."

The other side: Johnson did not directly answer Axios' questions about the timing of the university's garage plans but highlighted its resources for students, including counseling and a free, on-demand mental health service.

  • Johnson also noted that the July incident at the Richard A. Beard Garage did not involve a student or employee.

Zoom out: Numerous studies have found that physical barriers β€” such as fences or nets β€” help prevent suicides. Suicide prevention barriers were installed along the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 2021.

  • The Florida Highway Patrol told Axios it saw a dramatic decline in death by suicide at the bridge after the protective barriers were installed.
  • Clara Reynolds, CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, also told Axios, "The majority of suicidal attempts are impulsive," and removing that "lethal means is sometimes enough to interfere with that impulsive urge."

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or dial 988.


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