Suicide-prevention group finds unique way to deliver important message
By Long Hwa-shu For Sun-Times Media September 22, 2013 12:54PM
The only things you can see are the bottoms of Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley’s shoes and a big splash after he gets dunked in the tank Saturday at the suicide awareness fest. | TINA JOHANSSON~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Updated: November 22, 2013 3:25AM
Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley was all wet Saturday for a good cause.
He was dunked 14 times in a tank at a fundraiser to broaden suicide awareness. Suicide has claimed the lives of three officers at the Waukegan Police Department between May 2011 and this past January, an alarming indicator considering the size of the force.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to be a policeman or a fireman,” the mayor said, pointing to the stress and professional hazards facing them. The inaugural event was held in a parking lot off Sheridan Road behind the Genesee Theater on Waukegan east side.
“I want to put an end to the tragedy,” he vowed before he donned a rubber wet suit and climbed to a stand above the tank — waiting for someone to throw a hard ball at a bull’s-eye that would trigger him to fall into the water.
Most of the throwers were kids. None of the mayor’s political rivals were in sight. Alex Carias, 11, of Zion, a sixth-grader at Beach Park Middle School, became the first one to hit the bull’s-eye. He is a pitcher for a baseball team at the Zion Park District, his mother Samantha said.
With a big splash, the mayor went down in the tank to the applause of the crowd. Like a good sport, he managed to climb out of it — his hair and face all soaking wet. It was sunny with temperatures in the 60s and a cool breeze sweeping from the lake.
Asked if he was cold, His Honor said, “The suit is heavy and slippery.” The stiffness of the rubber suit, he murmured, made it hard for him to climb out and bend himself to sit down again in the seat.
Well, he was downed again and again — 13 more times within an hour. Each time, he climbed out unassisted, ready to be dunked once more.
“It’s for a good cause,” Motley said as he emerged for the last time. He was rewarded by a round of thunderous applause from his supporters.
“I’m motivated by the tragedy of the three suicides in the police department,” said detective Tom Granger, a department veteran who organized the event, hosted by the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force.
There were 63 suicides last year in Lake County, a 10 percent decrease from the previous year, according to Meredith Wood, chairwoman of the task force.
“Our mission is to deepen awareness, prevent suicide and save lives through education, linkage to resources and treatment within our community,” said Wood, a senior therapist with the Lake County Health Department.
Among those attending was Lisa Sturtevant who lost her husband, Mark, 43, an 11-year veteran with the Waukegan Police Department 17 months ago. She was wearing a T-shirt printed with three personal photographs and emblazoned with “Sturtevant Angels, Lost but Never Forgotten.”
One of the pictures was that of her late husband. The other two were his two brothers, Jeff, 32, a former ComEd Zion nuclear plant worker, and Michael, 18, a recent graduate of Warren High School. Both also committed suicide, according to Lisa Sturtevant who came with her daughter Rebecca, 22, and son Cameron, 17.
“No one will ever know why,” said Sonya Cartwright of Kenosha, Lisa’s cousin, who came to lend support to Lisa and the cause in general.
Asked what message she had for the event, Lisa said, “When you feel there’s no hope, you should talk to people and seek help.”
The two cousins participated in a 3.1-mile walk that kicked off the event, along with other family members and friends. According to Granger, the organizer, 175 people took the walk to Bowen Park and back. Each paid a $25 entry fee. All proceeds will benefit the task force. Among other highlights of the day were music, games and a K-9 demonstration.
Granger who started preparing for the event since April said he was encouraged by the turnout. He promised to make it annual.