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Parents of recent suicide victim call on the city of Columbia to make safety improvements at Fifth And Walnut garage

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Several suicides of happened at the site of the Fifth and Walnut parking garage in the past decade. Parent's of the recent victim, Haven Thomason, is shining light on the city of Columbia not taking appropriate steps to prevent this from continuing.

Earl and Jenny Rebarchek said their daughter Haven was a beautiful brown-eyed girl that was a huge part of the community downtown.

The Rebarchek's said Haven's death could have been avoided and the city should have learned from the many suicides in previous years.

Earl Rebarchek said it's his understanding that the city has had the funding for this project since last October but have yet to fix the openings on the top of the building where his daughter jumped off.

"If you're really set on leaving this world, what they got up there wouldn't stop a baby," Rebarchek said.

Jonathan "Link" White created a petition for more adequate suicide prevention barriers at the nine-level garage, the largest in Columbia.

"The purpose of this petition is to spread awareness about the very real traumas that have been endured by the loved ones of the 8 people, ranging from their early 20's to their early 90's, and to assure the city council that the citizens of this city are ready for them to install a solution to this problem," White wrote.

As of Wednesday, the petition had amassed 998 signatures out of 10,000 sought.

The petition proposes the installation of higher barriers or nets and signs at all major access points to the edge with phone numbers for counselors, suicide prevention hotlines and other psychological resources.

The bid period for the project opened in August and closes Thursday. The city’s Public Works Department will open and review bids from contractors for the project’s first phase Thursday and Friday, said Sydney Olsen, the city’s public information officer.

Olsen said the first phase would involve erecting an 8-foot-tall fence on the garage’s ninth level. In the second phase, steel panels individually will be placed to cover the openings on the remaining upper-level floors.

In the meantime, Olsen says the city has things currently in the works to taking temporary measures of closing off levels eight and nine of the garage.

Olsen says the city budgeted for the safety additions to the parking garage in the fiscal year 2020 budget, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

"The availability of supplies like steel, for example, is very difficult to come by, plus the consultant company that the city's been working with on this project haven't been able to come to Columbia and travel to the garage or engage in the public in those typical ways," Olsen said.

The move toward safety improvements comes as the city faces a lawsuit regarding a suicide in 2019. The plaintiffs claim the city has been negligent in failing to ensure the design of the Fifth and Walnut parking garage was safe and not moving more rapidly to address safety issues after suicides occurred.

Work on the safety enhancements is set to start this fall, Olsen said, but that is subject to change depending on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Chanel Porter

Chanel joined ABC 17 News in January 2021 after graduating from Penn State University. She enjoys traveling and a daily iced coffee.

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