On the day of sentencing the petition for Raquel Nelson that I started a week ago is at 136,965 signatures and counting. This case was first brought to my attention on twitter via the author of the Free Range Kids blog. I’m floored (in a good way) by the magnitude of the response. I’m saddened that it takes so egregious a miscarriage of justice to bring attention to the risks people like Ms. Nelson must take every day just to function in suburbs ruled by fast cars.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (July 26, 2011) Nelson was convicted of “homicide by vehicle in the second degree, crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk and reckless conduct.” Ms. Nelson was crossing the street from a bus stop to her apartment building with her 3 children in tow when her son, A.J. Nelson, ran ahead and into the path of an oncoming car. A.J. died from his injuries and Raquel and one of her daughters were also injured.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: I am hearing now that the charge may have been “failure to yield” rather than “crossing roadway elsewhere than at a crosswalk” which changes things a bit. More analysis to follow.
The problem, aside from the pure callousness, with the charges against Raquel is that there is no law against “crossing the roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk.” Raquel Nelson most likely was not even crossing illegally (informally “jaywalking”) when the crash occurred.
Based on Peds.org excerpts of Georgia law:
§ 40-6-92. Crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk:
(a) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless he has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.
(b) Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway if he uses the roadway instead of such tunnel or crossing.
(c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.
(d) No pedestrian shall cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic-control devices. When authorized to cross diagonally, pedestrians shall cross only in accordance with the official traffic-control devices pertaining to such crossing movements.
Looking at the presumed location of crash on Google Maps, Raquel’s crossing location fits those legal requirements; the adjacent crosswalks were not signalized so she was totally justified in crossing at that location. (This location is based on the oblique photo shown in the Transportation for America blog post)
The question of whether she was “jaywalking” was first addressed by Forbes Blog though relevant details were actually brought up in a comment by “reggie”.
Of course the overarching problem here is that, legal or not, this–like too many places in America–was not a safe place for Raquel and her children and very few places in the United States are because most of the American streetscape is designed for drivers, not for pedestrians (or cyclists or transit users). This is described in detail in the @T4America Dangerous by Design Report.
Update: According to liveblogging on Marrietta Patch the State is not seeking jail time. They are asking for community service and probation. That makes this no less a miscarriage of justice. She should never have been charged. She should never have been harassed by the State by dragging her through this trial. And she should never have been blamed in a court of law for a legal or moral responsibility in her son’s death.
Update 2: Marrietta Patch reporting that Ms. Nelson was sentenced to probation and community service. No jail time. Nelson’s lawyer says they will seek a new trial.
Update 3: This is NOT THE FIRST TIME that this has happened. Keri Caffrey, from commuteorlando.com where this is cross-posted, found out this key information. Cobb County previously prosecuted another grieving mother who was walking with her child in an eerily similar situation.
For more updates keep an eye on Transportation for America’s blog.