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Bill would put officers on gorge bridge to prevent suicides

A bill filed at the Legislature would provide money to staff the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, shown here during an inspection procedure, with a State Police officer at all hours as a way to prevent suicide jumpers. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Two northern New Mexico state representatives have introduced a bill that would provide money for State Polices officers to be stationed at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos at all hours.

Representatives Debbie Rodella, D-EspaƱola, and Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, are sponsors of House Bill 166, which would provide $156,000 from the state general fund to employ three State Police officers to “maintain a security presence” at the Gorge Bridge and vendor area for a year.

The bridge, which is about 650 feet above the Rio Grande, and the gorge itself have long been sites for suicide jumps. Taos County Sheriff said there were two suicides from the bridge and two others from nearby cliffs in 2017. There were about six or seven suicides from the bridge in 2016, Hogrefe recalled by phone Tuesday.

Safety changes to the bridge proposed in the past have included higher railings and a net that would catch jumpers. But Gonzales said the bridge, on U.S. 64 just north of Taos, is aging and can’t hold anymore weight from structural improvements. Hogrefe said the problem with a net is figuring out how to get a person out of it. Crisis hotline phones were installed at the bridge about three years ago.

Gonzales said staffing the bridge with officers is just an idea, and he would like to see how it works over a year’s time.

“I’m not saying this is the only way to address the problem,” Gonzales said. “At least we can try it for a while. We have to do something to help with this. If we go a year without any incidents, I would say it worked.”

Hogrefe said his deputies have increased patrols in the bridge area, especially in the evening and early-morning hours, and have often stopped and talked to people who were contemplating suicide. He said the proposed bill has his support.

“For me, I’m for anything that would bring more safety and security to the Gorge Bridge,” Hogrefe said.

State Police and the state Department of Transportation, which maintains the bridge, didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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