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A mother's message: Every life matters

The Herald - 11/3/2019

Nov. 3--Betty Koscinski wants to make sure no other mother ever has to hear the words she did more than three years ago.

Her son, Joe, 41, who suffered from mental illness, jumped off the Oakland Avenue Viaduct on April 3, 2016.

And like she has since the day her son died, Koscinski is reminding county officials that they could make it more difficult for others to do the same, and that the right decision could save someone else's son or daughter.

Koscinski was troubled when she heard that the Mercer County Board of Commissioners had decided not to award a contract to install blocking fencing on the county-owned bridge's already existing fences because the only bid was well above the project's anticipated cost.

"How much is your child worth?" she asked the county commissioners at their Oct. 3 meeting.

Since her son's death, Koscinski has made it her mission to educate -- and to advocate.

People often don't understand the connection between mental illnesses -- including depression and schizophrenia, the disease that tormented her son -- and suicide, she said.

That misunderstanding can result in reactions that further injure the loved ones of those who take their own lives.

Often, she said suicide isn't the act of taking one's own life, but the final stage of an illness.

Today, Koscinski speaks out to help people understand that principle. As a trained educator for the Suicide Prevention Network, she addresses high school students and, earlier this month, gave a talk during the Mercer County Crisis Intervention Team's most recent training session.

The Crisis Intervention Team is made up, in part, of police officers who are often called up to address incidents that involve not criminals, but the mentally ill.

Through the Suicide Prevention Network, Koscinski is planning to put up signs reading "Your Life Matters," with a phone number for a suicide hotline, around the viaduct, which carries South Oakland Avenue over Connelly Boulevard. But she also is determined to see the blocking fencing erected.

Bradley Elder, Mercer County's bridge engineer, said county officials solicited bids for the blocking fencing near the end of construction season -- the worst time of year for infrastructure contracts. Further, since the county commissioners planned to use liquid fuels funding, the county's share of the Pennsylvania's gasoline tax, to install the anti-climb blocking fencing, they could use only PennDOT-approved contractors.

Only one company, Green Acres, based in Scottdale, Westmoreland County, bid on the project. Green Acres' proposal was for $16,000.

"Some of our other PennDOT bridge contractors said they wouldn't even bid on that project this time of year," Elder said.

At their most recent meeting, the commissioners announced that the county had collected quotes from contractors not on PennDOT's approved list. Consequently, the county would have to pay for the work out of its general fund budget, instead of using liquid fuels money.

The county received two quotes -- for $3,750 and $5,210.20 -- well below the previous bid, and could approve a contract as soon as the commissioners meeting on Thursday.

Elder said the installation of anti-climb fencing wouldn't make it impossible for someone to take his or her own life by jumping from the bridge. But Koscinski said the barrier would make it more difficult to attempt suicide by jumping from the bridge.

And the delays that come from "more difficult" could be enough to save lives.

"One of the biggest deterrents to someone in that state of mind is putting some distance in space and time," she said.

Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at epoole@sharonherald.com

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