OCTOBER 18TH MEMORIALS
WORKING WITH THE FAMILIES OF THE VICTIMS, RIGHT OF WAY INSTALLED 8 MORE MEMORIALS FOR PEOPLE KILLED BY DRIVERS
On Saturday, October 18th, members of Right of Way bicycled from the Bronx, into Manhattan, and through parts of Brooklyn to install 8 new street memorials for people killed by drivers.
The day was pegged to October 18th for two reasons: to mark the third anniversary of the death of Mathieu Lefevre, and to celebrate the life of Matthew Brenner on his first birthday since his death at the hands of a driver this July. The families of both victims flew to NYC from Canada and Texas, respectively, for the commemorations.
At 7 of the sites, they were joined by family members of the victims. The eighth was for an “Unknown Pedestrian.”
“The families of the first seven requested that this unknown loss be memorialized alongside their very personal losses,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with Right of Way, “as a gesture to all victims of traffic violence: known, unidentified, and the unknown who will still suffer until Vision Zero is achieved.”
This “Ride of Remembrance and Hope” was a sequel to the inaugural ride in which Right of Way installed memorials for Families for Safe Streets on August 3rd, 2014. At each site, an image of wings, flowers and rays of light emerging from ashes was spray-painted onto the sidewalk or street where the victim was killed, along with the person’s name, the date she or he was fatally struck, and a commemorative phrase written by the family.
Here are details about each victim, and observations their family members made while we installed the memorials:
Josbel Rivera, age 23, was killed in the Bronx at Musholo Parkway and Paul St, the day after Christmas in 2011 by a hit-and-run driver who later burned his car rather than own up to his crime. At the memorial, his brother Shaniel said that increasing the fines for hit-and-runs was a great step, but they must lower the speed limit on all of Musholo Parkway, and enforce it.
Ariel Russo, age 4, was killed in Manhattan, on the sidewalk of West 97th Street off Amsterdam Avenue, where an unlicensed driver fleeing police in an SUV pinned Ariel and her grandmother against the metal grating of a restaurant. Ariel’s family said the police should not pursue people at high speeds through school zones – that they should know the risks on place more value on the lives they endanger.
Rubin Baum, age 80 and a decorated Korean war medic was killed at Park Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan, shielding his wife from two vehicles that collided and hurtled toward them as they hailed a cab. Rubin’s son Shepherd Baum said that he had not been to the intersection since his father was killed, and had avoided all of Park Avenue until returning for the installation of the memorial.
Matthew Brenner, age 29, was killed in Brooklyn under the Manhattan Bridge, riding his bike against traffic on Sands Street after missing the entrance to the bike path of the bridge. His mother, Franci Brenner, came to New York from her home in Texas to mark what would have been Matthew’s 30th birthday, Oct. 18th. As the memorial was installed, over a dozen cyclist missed the entrance to the bridge and ended in the same predicament as Matthew. They missed the entrance to the bike path, found themselves on the onramp to the BQE, and were forced to turn back, against traffic. “There are no signs on the street telling cyclist where to enter the bike path, and no signs saying ‘Danger, wrong way’ if you miss it,” Franci said, shocked. “This has to change.”
Unknown Pedestrian, at Elm Place and Livingston Avenue in Dumbo, is the 5th site, where an Unidentified Pedestrian was struck and killed in broad daylight on July 3 of this year. “As with 25% of the crashes this year,” said Michael Mintz, an organizer with Right of Way, “the NYPD did not report this fatality to the press at the time of the crash, as protocol dictates, so it was never written about. As a result, the victim remains nameless, genderless, and family-less…possibly forever.”
Lucian Merryweather, age 9, was killed last November when an SUV driver struck him on the sidewalk of DeKalb and Claremont Avenues. His was one of several horrific fatalities of children that helped motivate the push for Vision Zero. His family was joined by a large gathering of people from the community, who have been rallying behind them for more slow zones and traffic calming ever since.
Leighton Parnham, 19-years-old, was killed on the corner of Metropolitan Ave. & Humboldt Street in East Williamsburg, by a hit-and-run driver in August, 2012. His mother, Cindy Wiegerink wanted her son to be included during the October 18th memorials even though she did not think she would be able to join from her home in Michigan. At the last minute, she was miraculously able to fly to NYC, and joined the entire ride, biking from location to location on a borrowed bike.
Mathieu Lefevre was the final victim memorialized October 18th, also in East Williamsburg. Exactly three years ago, on Oct. 18, 2011, a truck driver passed Mathieu as he rode home on his bicycle, then turned across his path, killing him. “The NYPD’s seemingly willful mishandling of video and other evidence, and its cruel stonewalling of the family’s desperate requests for basic information about the fatal crash, helped lead the safer streets community’s to focus on the police department as the single greatest impediment to traffic reform,” said Charles Komanoff, an organizer with Right of Way.
“There was a resounding theme throughout the day that these memorials are not for the dead, but for the living,” said Keegan Stephan. “To help those who grieve from losing a loved one, and to inspire the rest of us to consider the value of human life and make meaningful change: to the way our systems treat victims, to the way our society protects its most vulnerable members, to the way we drive, and to the way we treat each other.”
Contact: Keegan Stephan, 907.244. 6426, KeeganStephan@gmail.com