PORTSMOUTH — A person who died after jumping from the Interstate 95 bridge Friday morning was a 38-year-old man from Portland, Maine, said New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Steve Cooper.
The emergency was reported March 8 at 9:37 a.m. and, according to the Portsmouth public police log, was initially reported to Maine State Police by a driver who saw an empty car parked on the bridge and a man at the railing. Video from the bridge confirmed the worst and the man was found in the Piscataqua River, off Patterson Lane in Newington, according to police.
The tragedy comes 11 years after Father Angelo Pappas of St. Nicholas Greek Church made vast local efforts to address the high number of suicide calls in Portsmouth. In July 2008, Portsmouth emergency responders reported going to their 56th suicide-related call of the year when Pappas, also former chaplain for the police and fire departments, described the problem as “epidemic.”
One of things Pappas did was form a prevention coalition, but that has since disbanded, confirmed Elaine de Mello, supervisor of training and prevention services for the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire. de Mello said there are resources throughout the state and she urged anyone needing help to call the 24/7 national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. She said calls will be routed to local police agencies and help will be dispatched.
de Mello also announced a new way to seek prevention help by texting 741741, for people who may not want to talk, but do want help.
Another part of Pappas' efforts 11 years ago was getting signs at all three bridges in Portsmouth. The one at the approach to the Memorial Bridge has faded so the phone numbers for help are no longer legible for anyone wanting to get help that way. The sign also notes it was sponsored by Portsmouth Rotary and City Manager John Bohenko, who is on the Rotary board, said Monday he'll bring the matter to the board's attention at its next meeting.
New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesperson Bill Boynton said he checked with the Bridge Maintenance Bureau and learned "there are no similar signs on either the I-95 High-Level bridge or the Sarah Long Bridge."
"Neither of those bridges has sidewalks," he said. "Adding signs on state property or the right-of-way would require the approval of the NHDOT’s Bureau of Traffic."
de Mello said signs at bridges, with numbers for getting help, have prevented suicide. She said often people become focused on suicide, but that "can be interrupted." She also said she knows of two examples in New Hampshire when people asked for help through the helpline, received it and survived.
deMello reminded that her group, and Pappas, advocated for barriers on the I-95 bridge, as well as the new Sarah Long and Memorial bridges, but were unsuccessful. A barrier is most effective, she said, but signs work too.
If people died on bridges due to a structural problem, she said, "You better believe it would be corrected."