In April of 2010, Raquel Nelson and her three children spent the day celebrating a family birthday and grocery shopping, but when the family missed one bus and had to wait an extra hour on the next one, it began to get dark and Raquel focused on getting her children home. They exited the bus, laden with groceries, and began to cross the four lane street that separated the bus stop from their apartment complex. Raquel and her children, along with a group of neighbors, made it safely to the median. When another woman attempted to finish crossing, four-year-old A.J. Nelson broke away from his mother to follow her and was struck and killed by Jerry L. Guy, who fled the scene and was tracked down later that night. Raquel and her youngest daughter suffered minor injuries during the accident and her oldest daughter was unharmed.
Jerry, who has a history of hit-and-runs, later admitted through his lawyer that he had consumed “a little” alcohol earlier in the day, was on pain medication and is partially blind in one eye. Jerry received a 6 month jail sentence and 5 years probation for the hit-and-run charge he was convicted of.
Raquel Nelson was tried and convicted of homicide by vehicle in the death of her son and faced up to 3 years in prison, just for trying to cross the street and get her children home. An MSNBC article describes Raquel’s “jury of peers” by explaining
“During jury questioning for Nelsonís trial, when members of the jury that would eventually convict her were asked if any of them relied on public transportation, no one raised their hand. A handful admitted to occasionally taking the bus to go to Atlanta Braves games.”
Today, Raquel faced a judge to receive the sentencing that would determine the fate of her family for the next few years of their lives. Raquel was given 40 hours of community service, 2 years of probation and the opportunity to have a new trial, if she chooses to. While this isn’t the ideal outcome for Raquel, it is at least better for Raquel’s daughters, who depend on her and will not have to lose their mom so soon after losing their brother.
Raquel’s situation struck a cord with people from around the country and around the world. Signers of the Care2 petition, Georgia: Don’t Punish Pedestrians for Driver’s Mistakes!, left many heartfelt and outraged comments, some of which I’d like to share here:
Georgia residents spoke up to defend the the Marietta mother and ask for better protection for pedestrians in their state:
Regina Barber, GA
I’m totally SHOCKED by the verdict in this case! My heart goes out to Ms. Nelson and to her two daughters. Governor Deal, please intervene on the behalf of this family. Enough is enough. The law serves multiple purposes. There will be absolutely no purpose in allowing Ms. Nelson to be sentenced to jail. The right thing to do is providing a better way for our children to be safer on the streets of Georgia.
Jennifer OLeary, GA
Because Georgia doesn’t have enough laws to protect people that walk on usually “walkless” areas. There are not enough sidewalks, bridges, crosswalks. If Georgia really cares about her citizens then this case should be an example of what Georgia needs to do to protect them, not prosecute them.
Americans from all over identified with and defended Raquel and her children:
Emily Ofiara, OH
This mother was only trying to get her family home. The last thing she would have wanted was for one of her children to be hurt, or even killed. Her family has suffered an enormous loss, and she does not deserve to be thrown in prison because of one man’s carelessness. Furthermore, her two children have already lost a family member, and losing their mother because of injustice is only hurting them even more. Let this mother finally grieve the loss of her child, and let her children keep what is left of their family.
Signers from as far away as Australia came to Raquel’s defense.
Name not displayed, Australia
Pedestrians are the most vulnerable objects on the road and it is the responsibility of the driver to take utmost caution to avoid pedestrians. The driver was obviously not a cautious driver-given his terrible hit and run record-and didn’t even stop when he hit a child! Pedestrians are in a very difficult position when crossing busy roads and are influenced by a number of factors (the culture of crossing at areas where there are no crossings) and just like drivers sometimes make judgement errors. It would be foolish to jail someone like Raquel. It would only serve to further damage her olther living children, who would not only have to deal with the loss of their brother but the lose of their mother’s love and care. The driver should have recieved a greater penalty instead
Raquel’s conviction should still be overturned without her and her family having to go through another trial, but for now, at least she’ll be where she belongs: at home with her children.