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The streets and the courts failed Raquel Nelson

Last week, many reported the horrific story of Raquel Nelson, whose four-year-old son was killed as she attempted to cross the street with him to reach their home. Nelson was convicted of reckless conduct, improperly crossing a roadway and second-degree homicide by vehicle, all for the crime of being a pedestrian in the car-centric Atlanta suburbs.

The conviction carried a sentence of up to 36 months, while the driver who killed Nelson's son—who'd been drinking and using painkillers before getting behind the wheel—got off with six months on a hit-and-run charge.

The bus stop on Austell Road and the path taken by Raquel Nelson to get to her apartment complex across the street. No marked crossings are visible in the photo. Image from T4America.

The more information that came out, the more outrageous the charges against Nelson became. From an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story that came out the month after the incident:

On April 10, she and her three children—Tyler, 9, A.J., 4, and Lauryn, 3—went shopping because the next day was Nelson's birthday. They had pizza, went to Wal-Mart and missed a bus, putting them an hour late getting home. Nelson, a student at Kennesaw State University, said she never expected to be out after dark, especially with the children.

When the Cobb County Transit bus finally stopped directly across from Somerpoint Apartments, night had fallen. She and the children crossed two lanes and waited with other passengers on the raised median for a break in traffic. The nearest crosswalks were three-tenths of a mile in either direction, and Nelson wanted to get her children inside as soon as possible. A.J. carried a plastic bag holding a goldfish they'd purchased.

"One girl ran across the street," Nelson said. "For some odd reason, I guess he saw the girl and decided to run out behind her. I said, 'Stop, A.J.,' and he was in the middle of the street so I said keep going. That's when we all got hit."

Look at all the ways the design of the city's transportation system failed Nelson and her family. Bus service runs once an hour. There is no crosswalk to connect a bus stop with an apartment building it serves—nor any crosswalk for three blocks. A convicted hit-and-run driver who is half-blind and has alcohol and pain-killers in his system is considered less of a threat to the public than a woman who rides the bus and walks with her kids.

And as Radley Balko wrote in the Huffington Post, the odds were stacked against Nelson from the start.

"During jury questioning, none of the jurors who would eventually convict Nelson raised their hands when asked if they relied on public transportation," Balko wrote. "Just one juror admitted to ever having ridden a public bus, though in response to a subsequent question, a few said they'd taken a bus to Braves games."

Indeed, as David Goldberg wrote on T4America's campaign blog, "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 did not ride public transit. "In other words, none had ever been in Nelson's shoes."

Many have asked if there's any way to help. Some expressed a desire to contribute to Nelson's legal fund. Others wanted to know if they could write a letter to someone demanding that Nelson's charges be expunged.

I've left two messages over the past week with Nelson's lawyer asking these (and other) questions. Neither message has been returned. So I can't answer your questions about a legal defense fund. Nelson's sentencing hearing is on Tuesday.

But there are now two petitions circulating. One, circulating at the Care2 petition site, asks the governor to overturn Nelson's verdict. At the moment I'm writing this, the petition has gathered 4,369 signatures, on the way to its goal of 10,000.

Another, which currently has 1,061 signatures at, asks not only for Nelson's release but for the installation of a crosswalk. That petition is addressed to the Cobb County Transportation Department, Cobb County Commissioner District 1 (Helen Goreham), and the Solicitor General (Barry Morgan).

We'll stay tuned for news on Nelson's sentence on Tuesday.

Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

Tanya Snyder is the former editor of Streetsblog USA, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 


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Cars kill.

by mph on Jul 23, 2011 10:23 am • linkreport

PBS has a video abou this topic.

by thump on Jul 23, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

I've seen this story on streets blog and a couple of other places but none of them mention what the rationale was behind charging her. No statements from the prosecutors or what their arguments were in court. While I'm sure they wouldn't actually convince me that the lady deserves punishment I'm still flabbergasted as to why the prosecution thought it prudent to proceed with the case.

by canaan on Jul 23, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

Move the bus stop to the closest intersection. Put a crosswalk there. You can't have midblock crosswalks for every apartment complex in the world...

The whole thing is tragic but for pete's sake you've gotta have better control of your 4 year old in that situation...

by Jason on Jul 23, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

I guess it's easy to blame 'someone else' for what befalls you when you assume everyone else is responsible for seeing you through life. Bottom line here is that she made a lot of bad decisions which culminated in a tragedy. First, had she been driving to do her shopping vs. depending on someone else scheduling, she would have never been in that spot. Secondly, if she'd made sure she'd gotten home before dark, it's unlikely this tragedy wouldn't have occured. Thirdly ... if she's dependent on public transportation because she can't afford otherwise, then what on earth is she doing having three children? It's way to easy to blame 'some one else' or 'society' for your own bad decisions. I'm glad the judge in Atlanta made a good example of this negligent mother.

by Lance on Jul 23, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Lance, are you serious? That is one of the most inflamatory thing I have read in ages. Among other things, this idea that she shouldn't have kids if she can't afford a car. One, you don't know her situation, she could have recently been laid off or had her hours cut and had to change her transporation methods accordingly, or the pregnancies could have been unplanned and she may not have had the ability to have an abortion due to many states making it harder and harder for it to occur. Two, how is she the only one to blame here? How is the driver, not at least partially responsible, given that drinking and driving is illegal? Three, you have never been late for anything? You have never accidently missed the last train, or left the house a little too late and hit traffic that you shouldn't have because of your departure time. Sometimes things happen that you just can't plan for.

Your comment is extremely classist and sexist. Maybe you should consider how priviledged your situation is compared to many others instead of jumping all over those who don't have the same opportunties.

by Really? on Jul 23, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

This is the grossest miscarriage of justice I have seen this year.

Lance, that is the most ignorant rant I've seen up here in a while. Shame on you.

by Dave Murphy on Jul 23, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

While you're at it Lance, why don't you throw in her culpability in being poor and black while living in Atlanta.

by Hmmm on Jul 23, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

Lance, not to pile on or an...screw it. That had to be THE MOST RIDICULOUS post I've ever seen by you, and I've seen a lot. "First, had she been driving....." WHAT? If she had a car, in ATL, why in the hell would she use the bus? Stupid comment. "Made sure she got home...." She missed the bus, b/c buses and public transport in ATL suck and clearly the bus doesn't run often to where she needs to go! Stupid comment. "Thirdly..." Ditto @Really?'s comment. Ridiculous. "It's way too easy to blame someone else..." IS. I BLAME the guy that was intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle! Why don't you? Perhaps if he was a fully functional and responsible motorist, he would have been able to avoid a small child in the road, maybe not. Being drunk and high decreases the chances exponentially. Stupid comment. "I'm glad the judge..." I'm sure you are. Stupid comment.

by thump on Jul 23, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

Lance: I'm glad the judge in Atlanta made a good example of this negligent mother.

You wouldn't have the spine to say that to her face.

by Bob See on Jul 23, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport


Once again your comments are not constructive. You do not appear interested in serious discussion. Suggesting women who can't afford cars should not have 3 kids is bizarre.

Agreed it is way easy to blame 'someone else' or 'society' for your own bad decisions. I hope you can accept the blame for your bad decision here.

by Michael D. on Jul 23, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

Lance's comment calling the woman a negligent mother hit the nail on the head.

As parents, we should go out of our way to provide for our children's safety. Illegally crossing a busy road with three kids simply because it is closer to home is putting children at risk.

I'm also surprised that no one has called out David Goldberg's race baiting. Imagine if someone said that only poor black people can judge other poor blacks in DC, or that only rich whites can judge rich whites.

Saying things like that breakdown a constructive conversation.

by mch on Jul 23, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

mch: Imagine if someone said that only poor black people can judge other poor blacks in DC, or that only rich whites can judge rich whites.

Imagine if this had been a black driver on medication and alcohol that killed a white woman's child. Yeah, we can imagine all sorts of things.

"They had pizza, went to Wal-Mart and missed a bus, putting them an hour late getting home. Nelson, a student at Kennesaw State University, said she never expected to be out after dark, especially with the children."

But you do continue to be a perfect parent with perfect children.

by Bob See on Jul 23, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

Who says people that ride the bus can't afford a car? I sit in the bus on a daily basis with people that own cars.

by Jasper on Jul 23, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport


The racial composition of a jury can be very important. Its very hard to show in a specific case that race played a role in a jury's decision. However, looking at large groups of juries and their decisions shows whites and blacks often draw very different conclusions from the same set of facts.

I served on a jury in DC for an assault on a police officer (the police and the defendant were all black, so race was not directly an issue). At the start of jury deliberations the first thing we did was take a straw pole to see who thought the defendant was guilty. The 6 whites voted guilty and the 6 blacks voted not guilty. Same facts, same case - very different conclusions.

In the J-walking case the jury only had six people, so its a small sample, and I don't know what the jurisdiction's racial makeup is, but its certainly a legitimate question for discussion.

Yes we would live in a better world if one could not predict a juries decision in part based on the racial makeup of the jury, but we don't live in that world.

by Michael D. on Jul 23, 2011 3:41 pm • linkreport

@Bob See: But you do continue to be a perfect parent with perfect children.

That is nothing but a rude, immature attack. Grow up.

@Michael D: Thanks for sharing your jury experience. It's unfortunate that we're still so segregated in so many ways. I'm hopeful that the future will be different (as I'm sure you are as well).

by mch on Jul 23, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

Man this thread has really jumped the shark this time.

Most people won't disagree that jaywalking isn't the best idea, but I think the more important question is why jaywalker carries more jail time than drunk driving.

by spookiness on Jul 23, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

Apparently Cobb County, Ga. isn't just backwards and atavistic. It's also plain mendacious and cruel.

Kind of like Lance. Congrats, Lance, I just thought you were a curmudgeon. You just showed yourself to be judgmental and cruel. I have no idea how you can look yourself in the mirror.

by Cavan on Jul 23, 2011 5:09 pm • linkreport

@spookiness 'but I think the more important question is why jaywalker carries more jail time than drunk driving.'

Probably because the jaywalking resulted in a death. The drunk driving didn't. By that I mean that if the drunk driver had done anything illegal that had led to the girl's death, you can be sure the judge would have convicted them of more than a hit and run charge. I'm not the judge, but given the FACTS of the situation, the judge obviously determined that the fact that the driver was drunk didn't figure into the accident. When you're on a highway like the one pictured above, even a very sober and very alert driver is not going to have a chance of stopping if someone darts out in front of them. And that's why we have the no jay walking laws. I think a lot of the folks on here are confusing jaywalking on a city street where cars are going maybe at most 25 mph with jaywalking on a highway like that one where 55 or more is probably the legal limit.

What I find super offensive is this:

"The streets and the courts failed Raquel Nelson".

No, streets designed for vehicular traffic and not pedestrians didn't fail anyone. They were working just fine until the mother decided to take a shortcut and jaywalk. Nor did the judge. Would you rather he poo poo'd it so that people think it's okay to jaywalk onto a highway with three small children not even 'in hand' but just following you?

by Lance on Jul 23, 2011 6:30 pm • linkreport

Lance -

He was drunk, thereby impairing his reaction times. Drunk driving is illegal (and in my opinion should require a ten year sentence). We also don't know if he was speeding, which would have further reduced the amount of time he'd have to stop.

by Max on Jul 23, 2011 8:02 pm • linkreport

Lance... where to begin.

"If the drunk driver had done anything illegal that had led to the girl's death..." Here's what he did. He drove drunk. That's illegal.

"...three small children not even 'in hand' but just following you" Last, I checked, people only had 2 hands, not three. Also, she had just gone shopping, so presumably she had groceries in her hand. Or would you prefer the 9, 4 and 3 year olds each hold some groceries with one hand while they hold one of their mom's three hands with the other?

Lastly, this is a road with sidewalks and bus stops and apartment complexes on either side. This isn't I-95. The fact that people feel like they should/can drive 55 on it means that it was poorly designed, just like the location of the bus stop was poorly designed by not being near a cross-walk.

So yeah, the streets failed her. And the courts failed her for taking the side of the street planners and a drunk hit-and-run driver over a mother who lost her child.

by Teyo on Jul 23, 2011 9:03 pm • linkreport

I'm also curious on the law in Georgia. In many states, including Georgia, its legal to cross at unmarked intersections (i.e. intersections that don't otherwise prohibit movement). At (particularly under § 40-6-92), they highlight the Georgia pedestrian laws and have an image showing that that it is legal to cross anywhere on a street if one of the adjacent intersections is unsignalized. If she wasn't at an unmarked intersection, which it appears the bus stop is at, she was definitely adjacent to one.

It appears to me to be the case from the google imagery, below. One could argue that they didn't "yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless he has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway", but I would argue that she may have felt this was the case, and the drunk driver would have been out of the reasonable body of consideration.

I don't think this location is the best place to cross the street for anyone (particularly someone with young kids), but I think it is ridiculous that she was charge how she was.

View Larger Map

by Ryan D on Jul 23, 2011 9:35 pm • linkreport

"Last, I checked, people only had 2 hands, not three. Also, she had just gone shopping, so presumably she had groceries in her hand."

Exactly! Responsible mothers don't put themselves in that position. Would your mother have done that?

by Lance on Jul 23, 2011 9:53 pm • linkreport

Sorry we offended you, Lance. I hope we don't offend you further by asking for crosswalks where pedestrians are likely to cross and could otherwise die.

by DAK4Blizzard on Jul 23, 2011 9:58 pm • linkreport

@DAK4blizzard, She chose to live in a place where the nearest crossly was one third of a mile away WITH young children she was responsible for ...Like I said, SHE made bad decisions. Shame on the contributer here for trying to shift responsibility on to the rest of us.

by Lance on Jul 23, 2011 10:11 pm • linkreport


You're kidding me right? How many excuses can you make to try and frame this as this woman's fault? You can't possibly be serious.

by Teyo on Jul 23, 2011 10:15 pm • linkreport

Teyo, if there wasn't the demand for apartment complexes that are well suited for people with cars, but far less appropriate for people without cars, they wouldn't get built. Maybe it cheaper than one near a bus stop and near a crosswalk to that bus stop. But the people who that cheaper housing is targeted at don't care because they have cars. What gives you the right to dictate that all such housing must be accessible to those without cars ... and therefore cost more ... or maybe not get built at all. She chose to live in a place where a car was important and more importantly chose to risk crossing in a dangerous and prohibited manner. Do you really want to encourage others to take such risky actions?

by Lance on Jul 23, 2011 10:41 pm • linkreport

This is a sad case, but one that should awaken all parents. When my son was young, I walked to a crosswalk, no matter how far it was. Parents need to be examples, as children do what we teach them. This is tragic, but the mother should not be taking her children across the freeway. I also question WHY is there a bus stop at a location without crosswalks. I would think that would have lessened the temptation to take the shortest route. There is plenty of blame to go around, but parents are the ones in charge. I shutter when I see parents jaywalking, especially with their children. This should be a wake up call for all of us! What we teach them, is what they will do. And with less realization of what can happen.

by Another Mom on Jul 23, 2011 10:59 pm • linkreport

Was the driver "drunk"? I read that "he had a drink" and "was on medication". That isn't "drunk". It is not illegal to "have a drink" and drive. You cannot consume so much you are over the legal limit. Remember, the judge gets to hear the entire case, and we get the part they want to enrage you to feel one way or another. I've served on jury duty many times, and as a juror, or a judge, you get to take more things into consideration. The way they act, etc., and you are allowed to "judge". Since none of us have sat through it all, not sure we can really judge the situation.

I don't think Lance is mean, he's just being honest. The mother's has much responsiblity. Sad, but true.

by Questioning on Jul 23, 2011 11:22 pm • linkreport

@Lance: It's 1/3 mile to the crosswalk, and then 1/3 mile to the apartment complex, which equals 2/3 mile of walking with young kids. A crosswalk would significantly shorten that distance -- and it could be used by pedestrians to directly access a bus stop. Your solution to merely blame the pedestrian, while possibly deserving to some degree, seems short-sighted given that the area in context is notorious for its lack of regard for pedestrians.

by DAK4Blizzard on Jul 24, 2011 1:09 am • linkreport

@Questioning I agree with the first paragraph of your comment and retract my comment about the fault of the driver. I am not convinced that the driver could or should have had the ability to prevent the crash. I think if he had stayed at the scene (reading into the hit-and-run charge), I don't think I would accuse him of anything with the evidence that I know of at this time (though if someone has the wherewithal to run after an accident, I question there capacity to be operating a car).

On the other hand, I still maintain that it is unreasonable to have charged the mother with the slew of charges that she was. I'm not convinced on the black and white convictions on the legalities of crossing the street where she did. I'm not even sure that it is clear that walking 2/3 of a mile in the dark with young children is the safer alternative. I think it is simply a bad situation from the policies and desires of suburban apartment living.

by Ryan D on Jul 24, 2011 8:43 am • linkreport

Just to be pedanatic:

1. Was the driver legally drunk -- i.e. a BAC test over .08 or .10?

There is nothing illegal about driving with a few drinks. The feds make state enforce a legal limit -- which says .08 means legally drunk. Of course you might be a better driver at .10 than someone with no alcohol, but it is a question of proof. Proving someone is "drunk" at below .08 requires testimony and a lot of evidence.

2. I though, in the initial report, I saw something about the mother being drunk. Again, proof. A few drinks, stumbling down drunk, etc?

3. In the AJC linked report, it said Raquel Nelson was NOT charged? What gives? ARticle dated in May. Was the new evidence that came up in the last month that changed the prosectors view? IN particular, vehicular homicide? Very strange charge.

4. The driver got a 5 year charge. That was reduced to six month and probation. Big difference. Nelson got 36 months but will be out of jail much quicker than that. It is likely the driver will be serving more time in JAIL.

5. That all being said, it is hard to imagine that race did not play a role. How do you get an all white jury in Cobb County?

Criminalizing traffic offenses bites both ways.

by charlie on Jul 24, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

@Charlie, Great work!

by Lance on Jul 24, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

Pretty amazing. With all the cars on that road, they just happened to be struck by this particular person.

by Bob See on Jul 24, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

@Ryan Another thing that bothered me about the story, the driver was PREVIOUSLY convicted of hit & run. I did not read that he left this scene as a hit & run. Perhaps I read that wrong, but it is the thing that bothers me most about these stories....they pull information to make you jump at something. Past behavior does not prove current behavior. It is something you may consider in "judging" but I'm not sure it was evidence in this case.

Also, I see the petition to "put in a sidewalk". why don't they move the stops to where there is a crosswalk. Wouldn't that be an easy solution? Stops aren't always "across the street" from where you are going. Often we have to walk several blocks. It would seem that placement of bus stops should have some consideration for crossing. I can certainly understand the temptation to take the shortest route.....If the stop was where there is a crosswalk, that could remove that temptation.

I feel very sorry for all involved in ths case. I'm sure no one intended this outcome. It's one of those "If only" cases.

by Questioning on Jul 24, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

@Questioning: He pleaded guilty to a hit and run. But Lance doesn't see a problem with that side of the story; in fact, he feels offended that this is an issue at all.

by DAK4Blizzard on Jul 24, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

^^He and others just cooly rationalize it as "they were jaywalking which is illegal". So, that driver hit them and just kept plowing on through without stopping...because they weren't in a marked crosswalk?

Some people here are simply scary. It makes you wonder if they would try to stop if someone was walking across the street in front of them. After all, "it's their fault for jaywalking".

btw, down the road towards the crosswalk to the south there are these signs:,+Austell+Rd,+Austell,+Cobb,+Georgia&hl=en&ll=33.903334,-84.56681&spn=0.013927,0.021608&sll=33.837413,-84.611313&sspn=0.009731,0.019205&z=16&layer=c&cbll=33.903281,-84.566908&panoid=LAWhZf0jEwgU3WWHQIg_Bw&cbp=12,91.96,,0,-6.52

I didn't see any signs like that at the hit and run area.

by Bob See on Jul 24, 2011 7:26 pm • linkreport

It's funny watching libertarian twits like Lance trying to claim that everyone has infinite choices in all matters - whether to drive or not drive, whether to live next to a bus stop that's next to a crosswalk... solipsism at its finest.

by Frank IBC on Jul 24, 2011 9:49 pm • linkreport

@DAK4Blizzard....where did it say he pleaded guilty in thIS case? Everything I read was about his past offenses?

@Bob See, I don't think it is rationalizing about the jaywalking. Whether it was legal or illegal doesn't even matter. It was unsafe and the mother should not have crossed at that location. I realize she had her reasons, and we've all taken shortcuts and sometimes paid for it. Sadly this was a tragic event, but the mother made the choice. Most of the times our shortcuts work, this one did not!

by Questioning on Jul 25, 2011 2:07 am • linkreport

What was "unsafe" about that intersection, apart from the drunk, drug-impaired, half-blind driver that barreled through it, having committed two previous hit-and-runs?

by Frank IBC on Jul 25, 2011 3:32 am • linkreport

@ Questioning; it is very hard to tell from the linked articles, but some digging reveals:

1. Guy charged with multiple counts:

"What is equally disturbing is the fact that Guy left the scene of the accident. The other charges he faces include, homicide by vehicle 1st degree, duty to report accident resulting in death or injury, cruelty to children. "

2. Guy had "a little alcohol earlier, a prescription for pain killers, and partially blind."

Usualy a good reason to run from an accident is you are drunk. By the time you are caught, you've sobered up and it is hard to show intoxication.

3. Guy pled out on a hit and run; 5 year sentence, 6 months served rest in probation.

4. The woman (nelson) has been convinced a sentence of 6 months. Since the sentencing portion hasn't occurred yet, it is safe to assume she won't serve 6 months in jail. More like 3 months with good behavior, or the judge might reduce it to a month with 5 months probation. If she is a first offender, might get straight probation.

SAying she will serve more jail time than Guy is highly speculative.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 8:17 am • linkreport

Questioning : Whether it was legal or illegal doesn't even matter.

The verdict and sentencing was based on what, then?

charlie: SAying she will serve more jail time than Guy is highly speculative.

What's at issue is that the court delivered a verdict and sentence that says she will. She's guilty, and the ass that hit her isn't. And they don't regard this area as unsafe. No "no crossing" sign there, no real crosswalk, nothing. Just plunk a bus stop down and hope nobody is dumb enough to use it.


And people just smoothly tell them they should walk 1/3 mile away from where they need to go, cross the street at a crosswalk, then walk 1/3 mile back. Because crossing the street at a bus stop (where it's apparently not illegal) to get to your destination almost directly across is a "shortcut".

This coming from people who probably circle the parking lot for 15 minutes waiting for a closer space to open up...

by Bob See on Jul 25, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

@Bob See ; no. The court delivered a guilty verdict with a potential charge up to six months. At the sentencing portion, the judge will decide. As I explain, in reality a 36 month sentence is usually far less -- because of time off for good behavior. He got a larger charge (5 years) that was reduced to six months in jail.

And although we don't know what will happen at sentencing, it is not usual in these cases to get a partial probation -- some time in jail, some time in probation.

A bit strange this wasn't pled out.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

I guess it's easy to blame 'someone else' for what befalls you when you assume everyone else is responsible for seeing you through life. Bottom line here is that she made a lot of bad decisions which culminated in a tragedy. First, had she been driving to do her shopping vs. depending on someone else scheduling, she would have never been in that spot.

Generally speaking, I assume 99.99% of what Lance writes is bullshit designed purely for maximum troll effect. But I think this comment gives a little peek into the soul of the man.

And it's not pretty.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Also, regardless of the level of intoxication on the part of the driver, the conviction was on hit-and-run. Frankly, folks who are convicted of hit-and-run should be staked out to an anthill. Whatever's left should be given a lifetime ban on driving.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

"Also, regardless of the level of intoxication on the part of the driver, the conviction was on hit-and-run. Frankly, folks who are convicted of hit-and-run should be staked out to an anthill. Whatever's left should be given a lifetime ban on driving."

Generally speaking, I assume 99.99% of what Oboe writes is bullshit designed purely for maximum troll effect. But I think this comment gives a little peek into the soul of the man.

And it's not pretty.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport


I certainly apologize if I've offended anyone in GGW's "Run Someone Over, Stop To Check, Then Drive Away And Sober Up" camp.

You're right, though, my comment was exactly the equivalent of pointing the finger at a mother who lost her four-year old, and saying she deserved it because she didn't have a car.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

charlie: @Bob See ; no. The court delivered a guilty verdict with a potential charge up to six months. At the sentencing portion, the judge will decide. As I explain, in reality a 36 month sentence is usually far less -- because of time off for good behavior.

You meant thirty-six months in the first sentence there...

Does a reduction in sentence mean she won't have a record?

by Bob See on Jul 25, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

Nelson is far more understanding of Guy, the man who killed her son, than Lance and Charlie are of her.

"She said that she had accepted that Guy, who had also been convicted of similar charges in 1997, served only six months for striking and killing her son, then fleeing the scene.

“Even though he has had a history of it, nobody gets up that day and says, ‘I’m going to kill a 4-year-old,’” Nelson said.

“However, to come after me so much harder than they did him is a slap in the face,” she said."

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

@Bob See; yes, sorry. 36 month sentence. The latest press report suggests that her three combined misdemeanors might be up to a year in jail, which would be around six months with good behavior. I suspect the actual sentence will be far lighter. I don't know how much discretion the judge has in Georgia law, but can take the entire set of facts into account.

She certainly will have a record.

Punitive justice is rarely justice, whether it is oboe burying hit and run drivers into antholes or what this jury did.

Left unsaid here is why she didn't take a plea for a lesser charge. Bad lawyering? Allowing an all white jury on this itself looks a bit off.

My major point is the streetsblog headline (mom gets more time than driver) is both wrong and speculative.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

@Bob See, I guess I didn't make it clear. It really doesn't matter whether it was legal or illegal, the child is dead. You can do things that are legal, and the death happens. I was commenting on the fact that the poor child is gone. And for that, the mother has responsibility. Our children learn from what we teach them. I NEVER crossed at a non-intersection with a child. I walked, no matter how far, to a marked intersection. I sung the song, "green for go, red for stop, be your own little traffic cop.....etc." It was teaching my child, what to do when I wasn't there. Children remember. I know it sounds trivial, but the truth is, we are teaching them. One of my cousins burned herself badly, when she started the fireplace with a little gasoline, like her father. Bad part, the fire wasn't out, so she was disfigured. That is what I mean, they learn from our actions. We need to think about that when we are with children. It's hard work, but their lives may depend on it. Children shouldn't "run away" from parents....bad things can happen. That is why we keep our kids in control. Take classes, read books, talk with doctors, learn to be the best we can be. Still things happen, but hopefully we have given them the tools to be safe.

If the driver left the scene, he is certainly guilty of that, and I'm not taking away his guilt, but if the mother was in control, it wouldn't have happened. I still have to put the responsiblity on the mother. She was the adult, and made a dangerous choice. I saw that roadway, and in daylight, I wouldn't attempt it. I really think there should not be a bus stop where there isn't a crosswalk, it seems that contributes to taking "the shortcut".

I get tired for trying to blame someone else for our action. When things don't go right, I look in the mirror and blame myself first. I am in control of my life, and when I sliced the side of my finger with the meat slicer without putting the guard on it, I knew it was my fault. I thought, that was the dumbest thing I've done yet, and believe me, I don't use it without the guard any more. As I was told when I was little, "put on your thinking cap".

It's a tragic story. Whether it was legal or illegal to cross at that spot didn't matter to me. It was apparent that it was UNSAFE, the child is dead. I'm sure if the mother got a do-over, she wouldn't have crossed there. That was the point I was trying to make. I would hope the judge will give her probation, but it is a learning opportunity for the rest of us.

by Questioning on Jul 25, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

@Questioning - I don't believe any one who's ever spent extended time with an active 4 year old, or a teenager, or a child of any age for that matter would ever say this with such conviction: Children shouldn't "run away" from parents....bad things can happen. That is why we keep our kids in control.

You're deluding yourself if you think you have that much control over every facet of possibility all the time.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport


I think the point of contention here is that there are many of us who think a big lesson cities need to learn is that when they put bus stops on a road for the use of residents, there should be a safe and convenient way for people to cross to and from that bus stop.

The point is not that everyone's trying to shift blame to someone else, it's that the designers of this place are not blameless. When a person's choices after a long ride home are trying to cross unsafely and walking for 15 minutes out of their way, a large chunk of people will choose the former. And yet for some reason nobody designed a street with that fact taken into account, because god forbid if a driver is inconvenienced by 45 seconds while someone crosses the street.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

-- or what MLD said.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

What @Tina said. This kind of parental second-guessing is pretty common. It's a common human impulse to place all blame on the parent, because that lets us feel like nothing bad could every happen to our children.

Bonus points for absolving the drunk, drugged, hit-and-run driver because, if it weren't for this child legally crossing the street, the accident would have never happened.

If you ever want to see how our culture absolves drivers of any responsibility whatsoever for operating their vehicles in a safe manner, you need look no further.

by oboe on Jul 25, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

...because that lets us feel like nothing bad could every happen to our children. Only if we think we are infallible, that we will have good luck every time, and that the strangers we/our babies encounter are cognizant enough to help us prevent tragedies (like this one).

Alas, none of that is a "reality based". Loving children and wanting to see them safetly into healthy adulthood, and to die before they do is a fucking leap of faith. We need all the help we can get, including from the Cobb Co. DOT to place bus stops at crosswalks/place crosswalks at busstops and create a built environmnet thats reasonably safe for bus riding families to embark and disembark.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

She should sue the city planners for putting a bus stop so far from a crosswalk, and therefore create a dangerous situation.

by JT on Jul 25, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

I live in Cobb County and am familiar with the streets and public transportation here. This is not what I would consider a completely public transportation friendly area.

What I think others are forgetting is the primary factor as to why she crossed (which she mentioned in her interview): it was dark and not well lit and she would have to cross another side street to get to the other crosswalk. She is a single mother ushering 3 children AT NIGHT. She is likely carrying a purse and other belongings and would be alone (from the safety of the others crossing the street there) if she should so choose to walk alone in the dark...1/3 a mile down and then another 1/3 mile (2/3 miles in the dark total) with small children and belongings in tow.

That, is also a danger. Yes, jaywalking is dangerous and illegal. However, it can also be argued that walking alone at night (in a dark area) for 2/3 mile as a single woman with 3 small children is also a danger. I really feel for her (she was stuck between a rock and a hard place-starting with the bus being an hour late). I can easily see how she could feel hurried and pressured to cross quickly and with the group. She made a choice, along with others at the scene, and it did not play out well.

As for sentencing the mother to actual jail time? I find it disgusting. Her lesson is already learned and one she will have to live with this for the rest of her life. Anything else is excessive and hardly justice.

@Lance: somewhere along the way you have lost or perhaps never had, empathy.

by cobbcountyresident on Jul 25, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

Per the comments about us (or David Goldberg specifically) race-baiting in our post at T4 America:

We never said there was a problem with the jurors being white specifically; but rather that none of them had ever depended on the bus to get around day-to-day. Most had never been on a CCT or MARTA bus. That they happened to be white was tangential. None of them had ever been in a position similar to Nelson's, whatever color they may be.

Though you can be sure that the prosecutor wanted to have the jury as white and as middle class as possible to better his chances.

by Steve Davis on Jul 25, 2011 5:25 pm • linkreport

For those who think the mother should have walked to one of the crosswalks, I think perhaps you are having trouble picturing what 3/10 of a mile really is (3/5 of a mile round trip). That's as if you were standing at 18th and Florida, and had to walk all the way down to R Street to cross, and then walk back up to Florida to get home. That's a 10 minute walk. How many of you would do that, even without the added factors of being exhausted, it being late, and having 3 children to drag with you?

We have roads like this in our own region. Just think of Route 50 out by 7 Corners. There is a huge problem with people jaywalking out there, because the distances between crossings are downright insane. This is what happens when environments are designed based on the assumption that everyone will drive. Demographics are changing in the suburbs, and many suburban residents now must rely on public transportation.

This woman's case is dramatic, but blaming her for what happened isn't going to solve the underlying problem, and likely will not save the next 4 year old's life. Rather than placing the blame on a grieving mother, we should be looking at how to make these places safer. And while we're at it, we should be learning from our mistakes and not building more of these kinds of environments.

by Esmeralda on Jul 25, 2011 6:19 pm • linkreport

@ Esmerald -- to build on your observation -- for all those asserting a parent should/must have a highly unrealistic amount of control over all variables at all times or be "bad parents" -- try walking 0.10mi. with a 3 year old AND a four year old and see how long it takes you. A 3/5 mi. walk with those two would easily take 2-4x as long or longer than without them. There are some things a parent can't control. One of them is the length of your 3 y.o.'s legs and his/her ability to focus on the task at hand. Those are biologically determined developmental issues that directly affect how efficiently a 3/5mi. walk can be made.

by Tina on Jul 25, 2011 6:45 pm • linkreport

@Tina. No I meant it 100%, and I speak from experience, lots of it. I was a full-time mom, as well as a scout leader, helped at school, etc. If I had more children in tow than hands, we all held hands. I and another parent took 12 children under 4 out to lunch, they sat quitely, politely and when we got up and left the restaurant looking like a row of ducks, people's jaws dropped, as they had no idea there were that many children in the booth! They were so well behaved. Before the trip, expectations and instructions were given. The children had been taught to listen and follow directions. Safety is of utmost importance, and when we walked down the street (a busy one), no one would dash out. But it takes work. Too many parents don't do the hard work, and their children pay the price. Then, lots of parents want to blame everyone else, instead of taking responsiblity for their part.

@MLD. I agree, and I said early on, there shouldn't be a stop where there isn't a safe way to cross. It didn't need to be across the street from the building, and a crosswalk doesn't have to be put there.....move the stop to a corner where there is a crosswalk. I'm sure the bus doesn't stop at everyone's home.....that would be a taxi, not a bus.

We as parents decide where we live, where we go, what time we go, what we take, the rules we make, and on and on. It is tragic, I feel very sorry for the mother, and the siblings, and the people who witnessed it. It is awful. But the point I was trying to make, is as parents, we need to teach our children. How many times have you seen a news story of a child at 3, who calls 911 and saves a family member. They were taught safety and what to do in an emergency. It didn't just happen, there were people in charge. You can learn from the mistakes of others, or feel sorry for them deny they had any responsiblity, and perhaps one day you can have the same fate? I would hope parents would take a moment to have a teaching moment with their children and let them know why it is important that they NOT RUN AWAY out of your control, follow directions. That was the point I was trying to make.

by Questioning on Jul 26, 2011 2:05 am • linkreport

@Questioning - it must be great to be so perfect.

And the drugged, drinking driver with a history of hit and run while driving impaired -who struck 3 people, two of them children, then left the scene? You think a mother who momentarily lost control is more responsible for causing the crash than the person who actually did the crashing?

by Tina on Jul 26, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

Comments have consequences. This is a sad story and many of the comments reflect a sense of entitlement and privilege that not all people are fortunate enough to have. What does it mean to two children to lose their mother, their supporter, their family and stability so that "justice is served?" To convict this woman would not be justice. It would be tragic. How could she be hired again if she was in jail? What will happen to her college pursuits and self-sustainability? Should those same people condemning he also pay for her cost of incarceration and for the costs associated with supporting her children? Is that what you want?

by JM on Jul 26, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport


A great article on the pervasive "blame the victim" mentality, and tragedy.

Frankly, I'm disgusted by what the reaction to this tragedy says about our society. We've let our public spaces become dominated by scofflaw behavior--actually institutionalized that dangerous behavior. And it's become so ingrained that we practically celebrate it.

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

UPDATE: Ms. Nelson appreared before the judge for sentencing this morning. The judge suspended the $1000 fines attached to each charge and then gave her a choice: 12 months' probation or a new trial.

by Tina on Jul 26, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

The Marietta Patch (!/MariettaPatch) is tweeting that the judge sentenced her to 12 months probation and 40 hours of community service, and also that she was granted a new trial. The latter doesn't quite make sense in context unless she set aside only one of the convictions. It also could be that she granted Ms. Nelson leave to request a new trial, or something like that. Hopefully later stories will clarify what happened. Streetsblog Capitol Hill also has info on the legal defense fund in their latest article.

by Eileen on Jul 26, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

The AJC story makes more sense, thus displaying the virtues of more conventional media over twitter. ;-)

by Eileen on Jul 26, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

sounds about right. 12 months probation would be an appropriate penalty here. And those are concurrent sentences.

Not sure about the new trial or how it works. Clearly a message to prosecutors that they need to settle this. The second degree vehicular homicide was always a stretch.

by charlie on Jul 26, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

The question is with all the blacks and other minorities in Atlanta area why are there no blacks on the jury. For all the self-rightous commenter out there, for a poor black women strugling to get thur life, there chidren are worth more than gold, it all they have and they place the highest of value upon those children I guess losing her son before her eyes is not punishment enough for the lance's of the world. A white woman would not be charge with any crime for the same facts in this situation let alone convicted of a crime. Whites would not even convict a white women in Florida who would not report her missing child, who was missing for over a month,and found murdered, would not convict her. Nelson is no threat to society, DA's that take these kind of cases to trial, ARE!

by charles on Jul 27, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

Let's see if I have this right:

A black woman in ATL watches her child murdered by a hit and run driver and gets sent to jail by an all white jury.

A white woman in Florida waits 30 DAYS to report her child missing, the child is found murdered, and an all white jury sends her home.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress flush the nation down the toilet to create the illusion that the incumbent Black president is a failure.

And I'm "playing the race card" for having the audacity to mention it.

Welcome to the post-racial society.

by ceefer66 on Jul 27, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

Esmeralda makes an important point: "Rather than placing the blame on a grieving mother, we should be looking at how to make these places safer. And while we're at it, we should be learning from our mistakes and not building more of these kinds of environments."

An article -- "For Want of a Crosswalk, a Life was Lost" -- (excerpted below) by Larry Cohen of the Prevention Institute and Dr. Richard Jackson of the UCLA School of Public Health makes the argument that injuries like this are "predictable and preventable." Bad suburban design and poor transportation planning are as much responsible for this tragedy as any of the parties involved in this tragedy, and society deserves moral culpability if we fail to fix the underlying problems that contributed it.

"How can we claim it's moral to blame the mother when we don't also take responsibility for fixing the problem?

That is our typical response to these kinds of tragedies. We call it an accident or we blame the individual. It's common for people to use the word accident for crashes, yet, it's an unfortunate -- and inadequate -- habit. The word implies that injuries are simply happenstance -- rare and without pattern. It blinds us to their frequency and preventability. Those of us who work to prevent injuries know that injuries are not accidents, they are predictable and preventable.

We shouldn't design highways where pedestrians who need to cross have no safe places to do so -- no lights and no cross walks within reasonable distances, and with cars going too fast. Streets where cars are all that matter and people (especially ones who are poor) don't matter, and for sure not people who are black, exhausted, or four years old. Instead of wasting our time debating who should be punished and how much, we need to invest our traffic safety funds in efforts that keep our children and families safe.

If we spent our money on smart transportation planning, that prioritizes pedestrians and bicyclists as well as cars, we could meet all these needs."

by Jason on Aug 3, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

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