Tri-County Commissioners Call for Anti-Suicide Measures on Bridges

The Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge as seen from Solomons Island, Calvert County. ( File Photo)
The Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge as seen from Solomons Island, Calvert County. ( File Photo)

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Feb. 17, 2022)—Commissioners from St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles counties agreed this week to implore the state to take immediate measures to prevent any further successful suicide attempts from regional bridges, including the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge and the Gov. Harry Nice/Mac Middleton Bridge that spans Charles County to Virginia.

The three boards of county commissioners agreed to write a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration after a virtual meeting held in the late afternoon of Feb. 9 to discuss a number of regional issues.

Prevention of suicides from regional bridges was not on the agenda but was brought up as the last topic of discussion.

Two people have dived off the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge in as many weeks triggering local petitions for safety netting to be installed there.

"The state of mental health in America is at a tipping point right now," said St. Mary's Commissioner Todd Morgan, opening the discussion. "We haven't had that many jumpers in a long time. "One suicide is one too many."

Calvert Commissioner President Earl "Buddy" Hance said the proposed solutions such as fencing or nets would not solve the core mental illness problem, "at least a fence on that bridge would prevent the jumpers."

Charles Commissioner Gilbert Bowling requested to have the issue put on the agenda for one of their regular meetings and Charles Commissioner President Rueben Collins agreed.

St. Mary's Commissioner John O'Connor said the state, in reviewing anti-suicide options on the Thomas Johnson Bridge, had said a fence on the span was not possible because of the type of traffic coming across.

"So, if we're going to focus our efforts… there are nets that can be put on the bridge that extend out from anywhere to 10 to 15 feet," O'Connor said. "They entangle somebody as they try to jump off.

"This is a countermeasure for someone who has reached critical mass in making the decision to take their own life."

Calvert County Commissioners Mike Hart and Steve Weems did not attend the virtual meeting, but the five commissioners from each of the other counties did.

The three boards also received a briefing from St. Mary's County Assistant Attorney John Houser about a bill that has been introduced in the state senate that would bring state election laws more in line with federal laws.

Houser brought up a bill introduced last session by St. Mary's Delegate Brian Crosby (D: 29-B) that would have created commissioner districts in which only residents living there could vote for them.

All three commissioner boards opposed Crosby's bill.

Houser said while the proposed Senate bill did not specifically mention Crosby's idea, if the new bill passes it could prompt someone to file a court challenge of the current county-wide voting, which could effectively do what Crosby's bill intended. Crosby has not indicated whether he will introduce the same bill this year.

Houser said, however, that the general consensus is that the new bill has little chance of passage as it has no co-sponsors and no companion House bill.

Houser recommended taking "a wait-and-see approach" to the new Senate bill.

"It just doesn't make sense for our region," said St. Mary's Commissioner Eric Colvin, about the idea of changing the current county-wide method of voting for commissioners.

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