Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, July 22, 2011 8:21 pm

Treading dangerous ground

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:21 pm
Tags: , ,

If you live in the South, you’re of a certain age and you have any money at all, you have spent your life driving pretty much everywhere. There’s not a ton of mass transit, stuff tends to be spread out because land historically has been cheap, sidewalks are hit-and-miss because they cost money, and bike paths are a relatively recent development.

I walked to school in grades K-2, but I rode the bus thereafter (until I turned 16 and could drive, hell, yes). And in all that time and for years afterward, I never really thought much about how people got around when they couldn’t afford a car and the risks that such people ran when, inevitably, they came in close proximity to moving cars.

Until I became a police reporter. And had to go cover wrecks, including but not limited to pedestrians being struck.

The first thing that hit me, metaphorically speaking, was the incredible damage even a relatively slow-moving vehicle can do to the human body. The majority of your body is water, and the hydrostatic shock wave traveling through that water as the result of blunt-force impact can blow your boots off your feet and your feet off your legs even before your body ever hits the ground.

The second thing was how very much emergency workers and even tow-truck drivers were taking their lives into their hands when responding to wrecks on superhighways, even in broad daylight and good weather.

The third thing, reinforced by the fact that I frequently had to park some distance from a wreck scene so as not to interfere with the access of emergency vehicles, is how hostile the roadway environment in general can be to pedestrians unless pedestrian safety is a design consideration.

So I’m not at all surprised to learn that an Atlanta mother lost a 4-year-old child to a hit-and-run driver while trying to cross a busy roadway with arms full of groceries and three young kids in tow. But I am quite surprised — and more than a little outraged — to learn that she was charged with and convicted of vehicular manslaughter and could serve 36 months in prison.

Yeah. She was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and could get three years. And she wasn’t driving anything.

Jerry L. Guy, who was actually driving? Who actually hit the child? And who then sped away? He did six months. He’s out already.

But wait! There’s more!

Guy confessed to having consumed “a little” alcohol earlier in the day, being prescribed pain medication and being partially blind in his left eye, said David Simpson, his attorney. …

Court records show that Guy was previously convicted of two-hit-and-runs on the same day, Feb. 17, 1997.

The first hit-and-run also happened on Austell Road, but when Guy fled from that scene he hit another car, seriously injuring that driver and passenger, records show.

Guy pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, but was out in less than a year, according to the Department of Corrections website.

So this individual has committed not one, not two, but three hit-and-runs in the past 15 years. And he has served a total of what appears to be 18 months.

Meanwhile, the mom, Raquel Nelson, who was technically guilty of trying to cross the street to get home, could be looking at three years in prison. Now why might that be? David Goldberg has a hypothesis I find depressingly plausible (all emphases in the original):

Nelson, 30 and African-American, was convicted on the charge this week by six jurors who were not her peers: All were middle-class whites, and none had ever taken a bus in metro Atlanta. In other words, none had ever been in Nelson’s shoes:

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.

That’s right: Because Nelson did not lug her exhausted little ones three-tenths of a mile from the bus stop to a traffic signal in order to cross five lanes of traffic, she is guilty of vehicular homicide. Because she did as her fellow bus riders, who crossed at the same time and place, and because she did what pedestrians will do every time – take the shortest reasonable path – she is guilty of vehicular homicide.

What about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land use regulators who allowed a bus stop to be placed so far from a signal and made no other provision for a safe crossing; who allowed – even encouraged, with wide, straight lanes – prevailing speeds of 50-plus on a road flanked by houses and apartments; who carved a fifth lane out of a wider median that could have provided more of a safe refuge for pedestrians; who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work and groceries despite having no access to a car?

They are as innocent as the day is long, according to the solicitor general’s office.

I’m somewhat less likely than Goldberg to think race is a factor in this case. But class? Oh, hell, yes. And in the South, issues of race and class can be difficult to tease apart unless you’re doing TV ads for Jesse Helms, in which they are very easy to tease apart in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons.

Raquel Nelson did nothing but try to provide for her family. Jerry Guy should be doing 20 years. And the prosecutor who brought this case should be disbarred … and have his driver’s license taken away for life.

UPDATE: I have emailed the following to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal:

As a police reporter for years, I was nearly hit by vehicles many times while covering wrecks and incidents in which pedestrians were struck. I knew cops and tow-truck drivers who were injured — and THEY had flashing lights to alert other drivers to their presence. What possible chance does a pedestrian with three young children in tow have?

A statue of my great-grandfather, Hooper Alexander Sr., a former legislator and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, stands in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse. He would be appalled at this injustice. Overturn Raquel Nelson’s conviction.

Also, more background on pedestrian-safety and road-design issues in the original.

1 Comment

  1. Bravo! your great granddaddy would indeed agree with you.

    Comment by Mom — Saturday, July 23, 2011 4:39 pm @ 4:39 pm

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