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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 18, 2010
Suicide from Thacher ledge
By Saranac Hale Spencer
NEW SCOTLAND A vehicle left in Thacher Park’s overlook parking lot led police to find Timothy Easley’s body at the foot of the park’s scenic cliff on Monday morning.
“Obviously, he had jumped off the escarpment,” said Undersheriff Craig Apple this week. The body was located in the Glen Dune area of the park, several hundred yards from the overlook.
A father of four, Easley worked as a banker. (See obituary on page 21)
Park employees found Easley’s vehicle on Sunday night when they were locking the gates, said Eileen Larrabee, a spokesperson for the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
Employees looked around the vehicle, but saw “no pill bottles, no signs of any kind of issue,” Larrabee said. There was “no note. Just a parked car.” Park police ran their sirens to attract the owner of the car, she said, and they checked missing-person reports and went to the house at the address to which the car was registered. There, they spoke with a neighbor, she said.
Officers left a note on the vehicle, instructing the owner to call in order to have the gates unlocked, she said, but “nobody did.”
On Monday morning, park police continued looking for Easley and spoke with a family member, Larrabee said.
Once a State Police helicopter came on the scene, the search took only about 20 minutes, Apple said, explaining that, without foliage on the trees, it’s easy to search from the air. About 10 people were part of the search effort, some of whom rappelled down the 200-foot face of the escarpment and brought up Easley’s body, he said.
Suicide from high places
In 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, roughly 35,000 people killed themselves in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Asked how frequent suicides are at the park, Apple said, “Unfortunately, the numbers are far too high. At least a couple a year.”
The Albany County Sheriff’s Department once got a call from a man who was despondent and considering suicide at the park, Apple said. Officers talked to him for four hours and were able to talk him down, he said, adding, “those [situations] are few and far between.”
In 2007, the New York State Bridge Authority installed telephones connected to a suicide-prevention hotline on the five bridges it maintains in the Hudson Valley.
“We know we’ve had saves on every bridge,” Gary Spielmann, the former director of suicide prevention for the state’s office of mental health, said of the effect of the phones. “We have lost some people,” he said. “They’ve ignored the phones.”
People contemplating suicide are of two types, he said, those who are ambivalent and, when they get to the ledge, want to find a way off, and those who are set on killing themselves. The former use the phones; the latter don’t.
“They don’t get used every week. They don’t get used every month,” John Bellucci, director of operations for the bridge authority, said of the phones. They were the most reasonable option for reducing the incidence of suicide, since erecting fences on bridges is often not structurally or economically feasible, he said.
A report on the Authority’s program, for which Spielmann was a consultant, states, “The New York State Bridge Authority will continue its efforts by making our consultant and our in house professionals available to any agency that desires to undertake a similar program.”
The bridge authority has consulted with New York’s Thruway Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority, and a Texas transportation authority, Bellucci said. Its information would be available to the parks department.
“It’s a prominent location,” Jill Wolski Ordonez, of United Way’s 2-1-1 and Contact Lifeline, said of Thacher Park’s ledge. It’s “similar to the George Washington Bridge in New York City,” she said, “It’s prominent. People see it.”
People who consider suicide think about “what’s accessible to them. Bridges and cliffs are available,” she said.
“There is a similarity, I think, in the sense that they’re accessible,” Spielmann said of bridges and the Helderberg escarpment. Also, they offer an awe-inspiring view, he said, explaining that some people “are trying somehow to elevate their death by associating with a majestic atmosphere.”
Reducing access to the means to suicide can prevent some deaths, Spielmann said; near a cliff, that could mean erecting a fence. He pointed out, “Thacher Park is an icon in the Capital District” and people go there to enjoy the view. Another option is to install phones.
“It’s not a very expensive system to install,” he said, estimating that the Bridge Authority spent about $165,000 to install just under 20 phones.
“It’s certainly worth a try” at Thacher Park, Spielmann said, adding, “It’s by no means foolproof.”
The telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and an online chat option is available at www.crisischat.org.