Civil Rights Leaders Gather to Support Mother Convicted of Vehicular Homicide

A Marietta woman whose 4-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver in April 2010 faces up to three years in prison.

About 30 people showed their support of Raquel Nelson, the Marietta woman after her 4-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver, at Marietta Square on Friday morning.

Many of the supporters were members of civil rights organizations, including the Cobb NAACP, the SCLC and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Nelson will be sentenced Tuesday and faces up to 12 months in prison for each of her three charges–vehicular homicide in the second degree, reckless conduct and crossing a roadway elsewhere than a crosswalk–for a maximum of three years, which would be 30 months longer than the driver who killed Nelson’s son served.

In April 2010, Nelson was walking with her three children to their apartment on Austell Road when her 4-year-old son, A.J., was hit by a driver who said he had been drinking earlier that day, who is partially blind in one eye and who had taken prescription drugs.

Nelson ran after A.J. and was also hit.

Deane Bonner, the president of the Cobb NAACP, said the purpose of the press conference was to show Nelson that “there are people who care about her and are willing to stand with her through whatever’s going to happen on Tuesday.”

Bonner said most of the supporters at the conference will also be in the courtroom Tuesday. However, Bonner and Georgia NAACP Director Edward Dubose will not be at the sentencing because they will be in California at the NAACP’s national conference.

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."

But Bonner said at Friday’s conference that race was not an issue.

“We’re not going there. We’re taking the high road today,” Bonner said. “We’re not playing a blame game. We see a young woman who needed just what we gave her today, the loving support to go through whatever happens on Tuesday.”

Although Bronner said the NAACP plans to start a national fund for Nelson, she said no definite plan of action has been created if Nelson is sentenced to serve time.

“We see justice being served on Tuesday of her not being sentenced and going home to her two daughters,” Bonner said.

Others have started petitions. This Care2 petition asks Gov. Nathan Deal to overturn Nelson’s verdict. At the time of publication, the petition had 4,556 signatures. A Change.org petition, with 1,196 signatures, is seeking Nelson’s release and the installation of a crosswalk.

This AJC story provides more details about the incident on that night in April 2010:

"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.'"

Three days after this report, which pointed out that Nelson had not been charged with any crimes, ran in the AJC, Nelson was charged.

Many people throughout the nation and even overseas have been vocal about this case. Patch will have an overview of what people are saying, and it will likely be similar to what Radley Balko said in his Huffington Post column on Thursday:

"No one forced Raquel Nelson to jaywalk the night of her son's death. The suggestion here isn't that the city owes Nelson anything for the consequences of her actions. But there is something to be said for designing cities with an eye toward how people actually behave, not how urban planners wish they would. Putting a bus stop in the middle of a busy highway, three-tenths of a mile away from the nearest crosswalk—while zoning for apartments and businesses on the other side of the same street—is poor planning.

"But it's really the decision to prosecute Nelson that's outrageous. That the state can prosecute someone doesn't mean that it should. And it seems that a little empathy would be in order here."

Pam J July 26, 2011 at 04:02 AM
Not given a trial with a jury of her peers? How about talking to her lawyer about that. The lawyer and prosecutor pick the jury members. Rich people on trial rarely have a jury of their peers either. It works both ways. I doubt that race has anything to do with it. It was just an unfortunate accident that took the life of a child. But to bring race into is being racist, which white people aren't allowed to be. If they had been a white family, I would feel the same way. Race has nothing to do with accountability and responsibility. And if you place a crosswalk at all bus stops, traffic will be very screwed up. I agree that maybe there should be a crosswalk at that bus stop, but there isn't.
Bay Area Girl July 26, 2011 at 06:06 AM
Well Pam - thanks for helping this California girl understand just how in hell this poor mother could even be convicted of a crime by such a mean spirited and absurd interpretation of the (spirit of the) law. I am so disheartened to know that there are people in my country who vehemently and defensible follow your thought process as it applies to this case. I pray for this family and our country.
Pam J July 26, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Let me just say that I am outraged that the driver did not do more time. I have said before that he shouldn't even be driving. With that being said, again, that little boy darted out into traffic. It is a horrible thing to lose a child and I feel for that family. But every single day I see people with kids trying to cross busy highways. I'm sorry if you think that is okay. I'm a nice person and I agree that the mother should not serve any time in jail, but she did put her children in that situation. I think you are all blind to that fact.
Socialist Worker July 26, 2011 at 05:18 PM
Ok Ms. Nice Person besides being outraged why aren't the transportation officials being held accountable for placing a bus stop with no place to safely cross a busy highway? See they can't afford to buy a traffic signals because they are busy spending tens of thousands ot dollars trying to lynch Troy Davis.
Pam J July 26, 2011 at 08:34 PM
They cannot put traffic signals at every single bus stop. Be realistic here. Money is being spent on a lot of useless things, but even if they did have the money, a traffic light at every single bus stop would screw traffic up horribly. As I was driving home from my house that my renter destroyed, there was a guy just 10 feet away from the signal and crosswalk and he was trying to cross the five lanes of traffic AGAINST the light. I don't really want to screw my day up by hitting somebody who was doing this. And like I said, it was just bad luck that it was the drunk guy who hit the little boy. But if she had walked up to the crosswalk (maybe there was even a closer bus stop to that crosswalk - need to check that), then that guy would have been long gone and that little boy would be alive today. I know, hindsight's 20/20 and I am not diminishing the horror of the situation. I'm just saying that people need to be careful.


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