The killing fields

May 14, 2015 § 21 Comments

Alaskan cyclist Jeff Dusenbury was killed on July 19, 2014, by a drunk 17-year-old. Jeff leaves behind his wife of thirty-two years and his adult daughter, Melissa.

The driver who ended his life left the scene of the killing and was arrested at home, where a blood test taken there confirmed that she was legally drunk. The DA struck a deal with the defendant to recommend a 3-year sentence, with 2 years suspended. This means that the killer, who is being tried as an adult, will serve only one year in jail. Jeff’s family is demanding open sentencing by the judge after a full presentencing report rather than the current offer, which was made without consulting Jeff’s wife or daughter. Presumably the presentencing report will include information showing that Jeff’s killer had significant addiction issues prior to the act that led to her crushing Jeff and leaving him to die.

Friends of Jeff and cyclists in Anchorage are protesting the DA’s proposed inadequate sentence and ask that you sign their online petition, which is linked here.

I’m personally not much of a fan when it comes to jails. Without systems in place to actually rehabilitate felons, the mentality of “lock ’em up” doesn’t do much more than create the world’s largest inmate population, which we have, and for-profit prison corporations, which we have, and zero incentive to rehabilitate people, which we also have.

So I don’t believe that putting Jeff’s killer in jail for ten years, or a hundred, is going to change anything. I’d much rather see her saddled with a few hundred thousand dollars in non-dischargeable debt that she has to spend the next 10-20 years repaying to Jeff’s widow and daughter. Money won’t bring him back, but the monthly payments made over the course of the next two decades while holding down a job might do more for Jeff’s killer than a stint in jail.

On the other hand, prisons are the typical punishment our society metes out to blacks, Hispanics, and poor people in overwhelming proportions when they get convicted of lawbreaking. And with regard to cyclists, convictions of any type are rare. As a friend pointed out on our protest ride to Malibu, “If you want to kill a person and not get punished, kill them with a car.”

Especially with regard to bikes, killing cyclists and getting a tap on the forehead is simply the cost of doing business for lots of cagers. The idea that a few drinks for an underage driver, a 5,000-lb. pickup, and a dead father/husband/worker are just “how society is these days” sends exactly the wrong message.

Look no further than Milton Olin here in Los Angeles, whose killer had no charges filed against him at all, and you’ll see that the public perception of the value of a cyclist’s life is minimal. Cutting a lame deal with Jeff Dusenbury’s killer and treating her differently from the poor who wind up in the dock is a bad solution.

Like activists who have protested the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, our demand is simple. Stop killing us.

And if we have to cram a few more drunks into jail cells to get the message across, so be it.

END

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§ 21 Responses to The killing fields

  • dangerstu says:

    The Welsh before the Norman conquest were somewhat an anomaly in that they had no capital punishment, every crime had a means based monetary value associated to it, that your whole family were forced to pay. Whether it was stealing some bread or killing someone. Not surprisingly they had the lowest crime rate in Europe at the time.

  • Ken says:

    This case is really egregious. And Jeff was avid cyclist, hard core racer, safety nut and hell of a good guy.

    The 17 year old who ran Jeff down was drunk at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and had a history of such issues. Why her parents gave her a car is hard to imagine. Why her friend’s parent let her get that drunk in her home – then let her drive the next morning is also hard to imagine.

    Jeff was riding on a sleepy street, next to a sleepy community park, on his way to meet close friends for a ride.when this woman hit him at high speed, going backwards in Jeff’s lane, tires squealing. He had no chance.

    When she hit him Jeff flew 25 feet or so backwards and landed on the road. Her truck then swerved, and smashed into, a 10″x10″ bollard marking the park boundary, ripping it out of the ground, and her truck ended up 100 feet off the road and in the middle of the park. While a neighbor came to Jeff’s aid, the driver just put it in “D” and took off, ignoring the frantic signals of the bystander who was trying to help Jeff, and ignoring the man she had just run down. Jeff died in the bystanders arms shortly after.

    Jeff was about 2 blocks from the place he was going to meet his friends for a long, hard, ride. It is hard to imagine how taking the life of a good man under these circumstances merits a year in jail and nothing else.

    Please, please take a moment to sign the petition to send a message to the DA, the Judge and the larger community that killing cyclists is not okay – much less by drunks who “hit and run.”

    • Dan K says:

      Civil suit against the parents and friend’s parents for contributatory negligence?

      • fsethd says:

        Negligent entrustment of the vehicle if they knew about her drug/drinking problem.

  • Ken says:

    yes, and/or negligent entrustment, providing alcohol to a minor and a few other things. . . .

  • Begrudgingly I admit your comments are truthful and valid but I am pretty fucking angry after reading this story. I hate reading these stories knowing too well what every one of us faces each day on the bike. My South Philly really gets fired up when I hear of plea bargains and such. Very similar situation over the winter in Baltimore when a bishop was drunk and ran over a cyclist and fled the scene.Luckily she stands trial next month for manslaughter and she was recently defrocked though I hear from my bike buddies in Maryland a plea deal is in the works. Fuckers.

  • Jon Trimble says:

    Instead of a long winded reply, Done!

  • darelldd says:

    I know it seems petty in the grand scheme of things. But can I request that we not call these accidents? I have no idea when we decided that a subjective, non-descriptive euphemism was required for any collision that involves a motor vehicle. But here we are aiding in the minimization of this tragedy.

    It was not an accident. It was a fatal collision.

    • fsethd says:

      Accident is a bad word. Fatal collision isn’t much better because it is so passive. What about active sentences like this: “Drunk driver killed bicyclist.”

      • darelldd says:

        The active, descriptive, objective option is certainly better. But it’s a mouthful, and we’ll always have a need for that one-word shorthand. And there’s simply no reason to use the inappropriate, subjectively biased word, “accident” in these cases, in place of the objective and at least mildly more descriptive CRASH or COLLISION.

        Isn’t it odd that “traffic accident” is now redundant? If somebody has been involved in an accident, of course it was a traffic accident. Using accident as a euphemism is just dandy when puppies and carpets are involved. But we do victims a disservice when we trot out the same “get out of jail free card” euphemism for crash or collision.

        Cheers, Seth. For caring. And for making a difference.

      • fsethd says:

        Thanks, Darell. I agree that words really matter.

  • Gregg says:

    Google “cyclist killed on west avenue”. Happened here in San Antonio a few years ago. Read about how the kid was driving and how he cursed and yelled at the dead man he killed. Google the kid’s name and see if any mention of consequences. Also, if it is the same kid, provides links to some kid w/ the same name in San Antonio who has several youtube videos “liked” involving street racing, etc. Open season…

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