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.
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