WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — A DC woman is pushing to add suicide prevention barriers on the William Howard Taft Bridge after her partner died by suicide there earlier this year.
“I’ve been saying since he left I don’t have enough words to describe who he was,” said Chelsea Van Thof. “He was the best person I ever met, and I think I ever will meet. He was very giving. He would give you the shirt off his back. He was kind and caring and witty.”
29-year-old Dr. Peter Tripp died by suicide in April, after jumping from the bridge.
A veterinarian, Tripp was the oldest son, with three younger brothers. He loved to read fantasy books, play board games and Dungeons and Dragons.
Van Thof recounted the night he died.
“He walked out the door. I thought he was taking out the trash,” she said. “And then a few minutes later, I got a text form him saying, ‘he never understood why I loved him. But, all he knew was he loved me.’ I realized halfway through what it was.”
She tried to call him, but his phone went to voicemail. Police pinged his phone to the Adams Morgan neighborhood. And Van Thof and friends went to look for him. It’s when she was standing on the Ellington Bridge, which has suicide prevention barriers in place, that she noticed flashing lights and crime tape below the Taft Bridge.
“I looked through the suicide barrier of the Ellington Bridge to a bridge that is identical in heigh and size that does not have a barrier. And I can’t wrap my head around that,” said Van Thof.
Since then, she’s made it her mission to get the same barriers on the Taft Bridge.
“I think a part of me feels like I will get a small part of Peter back by doing this, by paying it forward by helping other people,” she said. “I want them to know there are other options and it is an impulse. if that bridge had a barrier, Peter would still be here. It cuts through the impulse.”
Two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are on board with her efforts.
Earlier this summer, ANC 3C passed a resolution supporting the installation of the barriers, which are essentially higher fencing to prevent people from going over the bridge.
“You don’t notice the difference (between the two bridges) until someone points,” said Janell Pagats, ANC 3C Commissioner.
Pagats has helped lead the charge among neighborhood leaders.
“The barriers are shown to be proven by many studies to give people the gift of time, where they sometimes just need a moment to reconsider what is the ultimate decision. It’s a simple fix,” she said.
Wednesday, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C passed a similar resolution.
“This was a very important resolution and everybody on the commission was happy to support it,” said Fiona Clem, Chair of the Commission.
Both the Ellington and Taft bridges are known problem areas for suicide attempts.
According to city data pulled by the commissions, the DC Medical Examiners Office has investigated 26 suicides involving people jumping from a bridge between January 1, 2010 and June 1, 2022. 15 of those happened between the two bridges.
The difference, is that the Ellington Bridge does have the suicide barriers.
They were installed in the late 80’s after several people took their lives there. Plans did exist for the barriers to go up on the Taft, but those were abandoned.
Van Thof hopes to change that.
“The day after, it was like one of the first things I said to someone when I was talking about it, ‘that bridge is going to get a barrier if have to die trying.’ And I said that unironically,” she said.
This does still need support from City Council. It’ll also require approval by several historic preservation groups.