Free Raquel Nelson: Mom of Hit & Run Victim

Originally posted on My [Urban] Generation

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.

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 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 they are designed for drivers, not for pedestrians. 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.

13 replies
  1. Guy
    Guy says:

    After looking at this in Google Maps I see that the nearest crosswalk is 0.1 miles away. Although this one is not marked or signalized it is a legal crosswalk and looks less safe to cross at then mid-block.

  2. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I read today that she was given probation and community service. So thankful that she wasn’t sent to jail. Still, she shouldn’t be given any punishment at all.

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    Eliza, thanks for creating that terrific petition and for keeping us updated!

    I just read the AP story:

    Prosecutors’ extremely rare decision to bring charges against the grieving mother had created a furor, with Nelson’s supporters calling the move cruel and heartless.

    It doesn’t seem to be so rare — this has been done before in Cobb County.

    Cobb County Police charged Altamesa Walker, the victim of a tragic pedestrian-vehicle crash, with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. Why? Because on November 17, 2008 while crossing South Cobb Drive to get to a bus stop, she and her children were hit by a car and her 4-year-old daughter was killed.

    Back to the AP story:

    As for the decision to charge Nelson, too, “these cases are inherently difficult because they are unintentional,” prosecutor Annamarie Baltz explained. “But the state is bound to uphold the law.”

    Nevertheless, Baltz asked for probation for Nelson and said prosecutors never intended to send her to prison.

    Uh huh.

    So what did the state seek to accomplish with this mean-spirited prosecution? Did they intend to send a message to pedestrians? Perhaps this is the message:

    Sally Flocks, founder of PEDS, an Atlanta pedestrian advocacy group. “What is anybody going to learn from this? Raquel lost her precious son. The lesson she learned already is quit using transit and buy a car to get around. It’s too dangerous to cross the streets here.”

    I’d really like to see an investigative journalist look up how many motorists have been prosecuted for vehicular homicide and reckless conduct in the death of pedestrians (and cyclists) in Cobb County. I’d like to know if the same zeal to “uphold the law” is being used to enforce roadway safety, or if this kind of aggressive prosecution is reserved for enforcing traffic flow.

    • Eliza
      Eliza says:

      Wow Keri. That’s a key piece of information. I’m horrified that this has happened before. I’m glad that makes our efforts all the more important because we very well may have spared some other mother a similar ordeal.

      “he state is bound to uphold the law.” This line just gets me. Bottom line is what law are they uphold because from what I can tell Raquel didn’t break any laws.

  4. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    Thank you, Eliza, for starting the petition, and for this update. I’m so thankful she wasn’t given jail time. Hopefully this case will help to raise awareness of the burden we place the car-less working poor in this country by providing infrastructure that is so horrible for everyone except car drivers. (And not even very nice for them, for that matter.)

  5. Scott
    Scott says:

    I think the most telling fact about the ass-backwardness of our justice system is that the man who killed her son and then didn’t even stop was only sentenced to six months in jail, even though he was impaired by alcohol and painkillers and this was his *third* hit and run!

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Yes, so much for “upholding the law”

      Georgia Law 40-6-270.

      (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or the death of any person or in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of the accident or shall stop as close thereto as possible and forthwith return to the scene of the accident and shall:

      (1) Give his name and address and the registration number of the vehicle he is driving;

      (2) Upon request and if it is available, exhibit his operator´s license to the person struck or the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle collided with; and

      (3) Render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance, including the transporting, or the making of arrangements for the transporting, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or if such transporting is requested by the injured person.

      The driver shall in every event remain at the scene of the accident until fulfilling the requirements of this subsection. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.

      (b) If such accident is the proximate cause of death or a serious injury, any person knowingly failing to stop and comply with the requirements of subsection (a) of this Code section shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.

    • Eliza
      Eliza says:

      While I do think that the repeater offender status is pretty bad (thought note 2 of the offenses were one incident) I’m not even that excited about blaming the driver. The face is our road system is set up so that everybody loses.

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        Aside from his alleged impairment, I totally agree that the road system is rigged. A non-impaired driver could just as easily hit a child who darts into the roadway.

        The crime he was charged with was leaving the scene. It’s not the “hit” part that makes it a felony. It’s the “run” part. Drivers often run because they are impaired. Once they run, they can’t be charged with DUI because there is no way to prove they were under the influence at the time of the crash.

      • Scott
        Scott says:

        Actually, from what I’ve read, his two prior hit and runs were two separate incidents. They occurred in two different locations on the same day.

  6. Eliza
    Eliza says:

    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 little bit (but not that much). Will follow up.

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