Hartford Man Dies by Suicide at Quechee Gorge Over Weekend

By Jordan Cuddemi

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-30-2018 12:07 PM

Quechee — A 22-year-old Hartford man died by suicide over the weekend at Quechee Gorge, the first such incident there in more than a year, Hartford police confirmed on Monday.

The suicide on Sunday occurred as state officials continue to brainstorm suicide-prevention measures and pedestrian and other safety improvements at the bridge, which had been the site of 15 suicides between 2003 and January 2017, according to a state report last year commissioned by the Vermont Legislature and calling for renovations.

Police and fire officials responded to the gorge around 10 a.m. on Sunday for an emergency call and firefighters began assessing rescue and recovery efforts. Officials shut down Route 4 from about 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. while crews made a difficult descent along the ice-covered gorge to retrieve the man’s body.

State workers in January 2017 took some interim steps at Quechee Gorge to help people in a mental health crisis, including installing two kiosks with a call button that rings counseling services at Headrest. They also have erected signs with uplifting words and a crisis number to call.

Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said he isn’t sure how frequently the kiosks are used, but said the police department has received “a number of calls” where they have “intercepted people who are in crisis and we have diverted them to the medical system.”

Public safety officials previously had provided assistance to the Hartford man, including at the gorge, Kasten said.

Proposed improvements at the bridge are still a few years out, said Kristin Higgins, the structures program manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Based on the current schedule and budget constraints, construction likely wouldn’t begin until 2021, she said. Just what the prevention upgrades would look like are still up for debate too and will be the subject of a series of public meetings that will start in town this spring.

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Two prevention measures that have been discussed previously, which are still on the table, are a tall barrier wall or a net below the bridge, both of which come with some sight restrictions. They each come at a significant cost.

The bridge also needs structural repairs, a project that will prove challenging, especially because construction would need to be undertaken during the summer, which is Vermont’s construction season and also the gorge’s peak tourism time.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed,” Higgins said. “This isn’t a slam-dunk, just-go-out-and-do-it maintenance project.”

Meanwhile, the topic weighs heavy on the families who have lost loved ones by suicide at the gorge, Kasten said.

“We are eager to see improvements completed,” Kasten said. “One life is one too many.”

The police chief also emphasized that help is available for people in crisis.

“Each event impacts the family and friends of everyone that has ever taken their life there,” he said in an email. “Suicide is not the answer, those who are in need of assistance or contemplating harming themselves can reach free help anytime by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.