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From the Roundtable: Long after “jumper” incident, pedestrian bridge still poses problem

From the Roundtable: Long after “jumper” incident, pedestrian bridge still poses problem

Al Germond is the host of the "Sunday Morning Roundtable" every Sunday at 8:15 a.m. on KFRU. [email protected]

For want of effective fencing along the Providence Road pedestrian bridge over Interstate 70, the City of Columbia and its insurance underwriter had to dole out $300,000.

That’s the amount of the settlement with a man who was Tasered twice by police officers who were trying to stop him from jumping off the bridge to his death last year. The second, ill-conceived Taser shot caused the man to fall over the edge and suffer injuries that would have been far worse if he had made the jump himself.

The alternative to the settlement was to risk a potentially higher award and what could have turned into an ugly circus of a jury trial.

Insurance companies call it risk management, and if there ever was a case for managing risks, the Providence Road pedestrian overpass should have had an additional outside barrier the moment it was opened. Regretfully, a person with suicidal intentions usually finds a way to die. That was the case recently when an MU student leaped to his death from the Hitt Street garage, which has just a waist-high wall around the top floor.

In the Providence bridge incident last year, the “jumper” seemed to have decided he wanted to die on a Friday morning in July by taking a leap off the walkway onto the maelstrom of I-70.

Instead, he ended up with a tidy jackpot from the City of Columbia. Even after his attorney’s cut, 300K is a pretty good haul for a few hours of “work” threatening a fatal plunge. On the other side of the ledger are the expenses billed by various public safety agencies that had to deal with the mess, along with the incalculable costs racked up from closing a busy interstate highway for several hours and inconveniencing thousands of summer travelers and shippers.

Eighteen months later, as the photo accompanying this column shows, there are still no protective barriers on the outside ends of the bridge. In fact, there are no such barriers on most of the I-70 overpasses across the state. Fences cost money but then so did the out-of-court “settlement” that cost the city and its insurer almost a third of a million dollars.

We taxpayers should be furious about this. The risks associated with every one of the I-70 overpasses within the city should require barriers that makes it harder for suicidal climbers to jump off of them.

Because it’s the taxpayers’ money the city is dealing with, let’s all inform the city about other high-risk situations from which costly settlements might come about if someone gets hurt or killed and a lawsuit is filed. Although the city and its insurance carriers conduct periodic risk-management reviews, citizens should become more vigilant and forthcoming about situations they believe to be risk-prone and inform City Hall.

One doesn’t have to look too far for other risky situations. There’s a sharply angled downward stretch of concrete between the two Providence Road bridges. A cyclist, especially at night, could end up taking this route and plunge at full speed onto I-70, which would result in serious injury or perhaps even death. A fence between the two overpasses on both sides of the interstate should go up immediately to reduce this risk to zero.

The motto “safe and sound” as it applies to the state’s ongoing program of overpass improvements should take all potential risks into account.

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