USF students, alumni urge school officials to install garage fencing after on-campus death

Students and alumni are calling for enhanced safety features at parking garages on the University of South Florida's campuses after reports of a second death in less than three years at the 8-story Richard A. Beard Parking Facility in Tampa.

On Sept. 16, USF sent a message to Tampa students, faculty, and staff confirming that campus police were investigating 'a tragic incident' on the Tampa campus.

According to the university, police were alerted around 10 a.m. that a person had fallen from an upper level of the garage. 

"Investigators are working to determine the circumstances surrounding this death," the university said. The student-run USF Oracle reported that campus police were investigating the death as a potential suicide.

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Multiple online petitions have been launched in the past week, calling on USF to install physical safety barriers to prevent suicide in its parking garages. One of the petitions, organized by USF alum Frank Cirillo, had garnered nearly 1,400 signatures in less than a week. 

"If you agree that we need to address suicides at the parking garages on campus," Cirillo writes, "sign this letter asking for USF to add fences to all University garage rooftops and screens to all garage levels above the 3rd floor by the end of this school year."

Another, organized by current USF student Victoria Abernathy, gained nearly 400. Abernathy writes that the body was "clearly visible to students and onlookers, traumatizing those who passed by."

Both organizers point out that this is the second time this has happened in recent years. In October 2019, a there was death at the same garage under similar circumstances. The calls for enhanced safety measures like chain link fencing or screening come as USF launches a new mobile app this semester to increase access to mental health services.

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"What's different about this platform is, yes, more immediate access and a teleconferencing option so students can log in to the platform and within about 10 minutes be connected with someone," Dr. Scott Strader, director of USF's counseling center told FOX 13.

Based on a 2016 study by the International Parking Institute, the cost to screen an eight-level garage is about $220,000. Organizers of both petitions said that with Friday's death being the second time this has happened at the Beard facility, the incident should lead to immediate preventative action from the university.

USF officials responded to the petitions in a statement on Thursday morning:

"The health, well-being, and safety of our students is a top priority for the University of South Florida.  USF offers a wide range of programs, resources and services to support the university community, including the recent launch of a new partnership with TimelyCare that gives students 24/7 access to mental health care services and the addition of a new chief health officer position.  The university will continue to explore additional steps to support the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff."