Kristina Chew recently posted the story of a Georgia mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide in the second degree after her four-year-old son was hit and killed while crossing the street with her. Raquel Nelson and her children were returning home from a day out when they attempted to cross the four lane street from the bus stop to their apartment building with a group of neighbors. The family made it to the median divide safely, but when another woman attempted to finish the crossing, four-year-old A.J. broke away from his mother and dashed into the road. Raquel tried to reach the boy and she, A.J. and her two-year-old daughter were hit by Jerry L.Guy, a man with a history of hit-and-run incidences.
Jerry later admitted that he had “a little” alcohol in his system, that he had taken a few painkillers and that he was partially blind in one of his eyes, but was only charged with hit-and-run. Jerry served 6 months in prison and will spend the next 5 years on probation. Raquel, however, has been charged with homicide by vehicle and faces up to 3 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for July 26th and will decide the fate of Raquel and her daughters.
New details have surfaced that paint a much clearer picture of what happened that day.
“In April 2010, Raquel Nelson and her three children had gone out for pizza on a Saturday afternoon to celebrate a family birthday. They also stopped at Walmart to buy a cake and groceries. The family had no car, so they used public transit to get home.
Their bus arrived at the bus transfer center just after the next bus they needed had left. Bus service on Saturdays is infrequent, and the next one arrived over an hour later. When that bus stopped across from their apartment building, it was the first time Raquel had to cross the high-speed divided highway with her children after dark.
Together with several other adults and children who exited at this stop, the family crossed two lanes and made it the median safely. When 4-year-old A.J. Nelson saw one of the other adults attempt to finish her crossing, he broke away from his mother and ran into the road. Raquel followed, attempting to keep him safe.
As they crossed, a van plowed into them, killing A.J. and injuring Raquel and her 2-year-old daughter. The driver, Jerry Guy, sped away.
It’s true that the Nelsons were not in a crosswalk when they attempted to cross the street. But the stop where Raquel Nelson and her children exited the bus is located three-tenths of a mile from the nearest crosswalk, the equivalent of three city blocks. No one would walk 1,500 feet to cross the street, so Raquel’s decision to cross where the bus let her family and neighbors off was hardly a ‘gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in this situation.’”
Raquel, a 30 year old African-American woman, was then tried by a jury of her “peers,” 6 middle class white people who had never used Atlanta’s public transportation. David Goldberg of Transportation for America wrote about the trial, saying:
“They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.
And they had never lost control of an over-eager four-year-old as they waited on a three-foot median for a car to pass. Nor had they watched helplessly as a driver who had had “three or four” beers and two painkillers barreled toward their child.”
Raquel’s situation is as heart-breaking as it is unnecessary. Had the area been better planned, with a crosswalk to take people from the bus stop to the apartment building, or had Jerry’s reaction time been better without the painkillers and alcohol in his system, little A.J. might still be here. While we can never be sure of what might have happened, what we can be sure of is that pedestrians need better protection and better city planning.
Raquel is not alone. In Virginia, two men were hit while crossing the same street within hours of each other, and both were ticketed by police for “careless interference with traffic.” In 2009, another mother in the Atlanta area was also charged in a very similar case. Cyclists and pedestrians around the country are often in constant danger of being hit on streets that are built only with cars in mind, and ‘ clear that charging or fining the victims is not helping the problem. Only when city planners begin to take pedestrians and cyclists into account when building streets will they be protected as they should be.