While trying to cross an intersection in Marietta, Georgia, in April of 2010, Raquel Nelson and her three children were hit by Jerry L. Guy, who would later confess to having consumed a “little” alcohol earlier in the day. Nelson’s 4-year-old son was struck by Guy’s vehicle and died from his injuries; Nelson and her younger daughter suffered minor injuries, while her older daughter was uninjured. Guy had been previously convicted of two-hit-and-runs on the same day, Feb. 17, 1997, the first of them on Austell Road, the same location as the accident involving Nelson and her children.
According to David Simpson, Guy’s attorney, his client was “being prescribed pain medication and … partially blind in his left eye,” says the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. He pleaded guilty to hit-and-run in the death of Nelson’s son and, after serving a 6-month sentence, was released on October 29, 2010; he is to serve the remainder of a 5-year sentence on probation.
Nelson, who lost her son in the hit-and-run, was convicted on July 12 of homicide by vehicle in the second degree, crossing a roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk and reckless conduct, said her attorney, David Savoy. She is to be sentenced at a hearing on July 26 and could serve up to 36 months.
Yes, Nelson could be jailed for 30 months longer than the driver of the vehicle that killed her child. Furthermore, she’s been charged with vehicular homicide in her own child’s death, even though she was a pedestrian when the accident occurred.
I had to read the facts of this case a few times to make sure I’d gotten them right — a mother was on foot with her children trying to cross a street, they get hit by a car that doesn’t stop, she is charged with her child’s death?
Jess Zimmerman on Grist asks:
What could Nelson have done instead? Basically either stayed inside or gotten some flying shoes. The court considered Nelson’s street crossing “reckless,” but her neighborhood has a Walkscore of 25, and the Marietta area ranks 11th in the nation for dangerousness to pedestrians. The street Nelson and her kids were crossing, Austell Road, is particularly dangerous — it’s a four-lane divided highway where safe crossings are sporadic. One of Guy’s previous hit-and-runs also happened on that road. After Nelson’s conviction, the president of a pedestrian advocacy organization pointed out that the city could have added a safe crossing for the cost of the trial. But that would mean prioritizing people over traffic.
Zimmerman also points out an unfortunate “trend” this year, “penalizing pedestrians for trying to walk in pedestrian-unfriendly areas.” Even in car-centric America, not everyone has a car and not everyone who has a car can afford gas to use it all the time; in such cases, walking is the only option.
Critics will say Nelson was clearly in the wrong not to be crossing the crosswalk. But doing so does not make it anymore “all right” for a driver to hit her and her children. Of course children need to learn to walk in the crosswalk and to look out for traffic — but if you’re driving a car and there’s a pedestrian in the road, you need to stop.
Nelson has already suffered enough, losing a child in a terrifying accident and then being judged — convicted — of contributing to his death. Jailing her for more than two years is highly likely to adversely affect her other two children, who’ve already had to contend with the death of the sibling and the legal charges against their mother. Why penalize this family further?
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