Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Lawmaker’s personal tale of son’s suicide helps propel bill
HB501 » The measure would provide training for Utah teachers.
First Published Mar 02 2012 02:37 pm • Last Updated Mar 02 2012 11:41 pm

Not a day goes by without Rep. Mark Wheatley thinking about his son’s suicide. He thinks about the pain. The anguish. The what-could’ve-beens.

So when he spoke on the House floor Friday — at times barely able to keep his composure — in support of a bill that would require teachers to get an additional two hours of training to recognize suicidal tendencies among youths, the lawmakers sat and listened raptly.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Wheatley’s mind went back to Dec. 1, 2009.

"I’d received a call at 1:14 from my wife, who told me my son was in the hospital with a faint heartbeat," Wheatley said. "I don’t even remember leaving the Capitol. I just remember going to the University of Utah Hospital, and I arrived too late. My son was already gone."

Wheatley still isn’t completely sure why. He said he was depressed. He’d lost his job. His marriage was suffering. Wheatley pored through his son’s MySpace account searching for answers.

He lost his composure when he came across an entry that said his son’s hero was, in fact, his dad.

His son was 29.

So when Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, proposed HB501, Wheatley co-sponsored it and — with the addition of his powerful testimony — helped get it passed 65-4 and sent to the Senate. The action came just one day after the House narrowly passed HB420, requiring school districts to offer annual seminars for parents on substance abuse, bullying, Internet safety and mental health.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said that before Wheatley spoke, there were a lot of lights on her board for lawmakers who wanted to speak. When he was finished, all of the lights were dark, she said.

Utah ranks ninth in the nation for suicides, according to a University of Utah study. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 24 — exceeded only by traffic accidents, according to the Utah Department of Health.

story continues below
story continues below

"Has it escalated into one of the biggest problems that we have with our youth in the state?" Hutchings asked. "Yes, it has."

The measure will fold the training into teachers’ and administrators’ regular training when their licenses are renewed.

But not everyone felt the Legislature should be mandating the training.

Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said it was overreaching by the state.

"So, if accidents are the leading cause of death, shall we not require school districts and the school board to provide training to prepare our teachers to deal with those inevitable losses?" Nielson asked. "The state school board and elected body and local school boards ... have the responsibility and authority, and we should respect that."

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said there was a funeral happening Friday for a student who had killed himself, and he pleaded with the House to pass the proposal.

But it was Wheatley’s words — the first time he had ever spoken publicly about his son’s suicide — that echoed through the chamber.

"One’s heart never heals when you lose a child," he said.


Twitter: @davemontero

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.