Columnist Karen Gardner: Justice for Cyclists

Posted: 7/12/2021 14:29:09 PM Modified: 12/07/2021 14:28:41 PM Did you notice the ghost bike at the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and E...

Posted: 7/12/2021 14:29:09 PM

Modified: 12/07/2021 14:28:41 PM

Did you notice the ghost bike at the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and Elm Street? I pass this corner several times a week as I travel in and out of Northampton. And every time I walk past that bike my heart starts racing, and I’m brutally and painfully taken back to the time when I first saw a white painted bike covered in flowers and hints of gold. love and remembrance by the side of a road.

The ghost bike here on Elm Street was placed there to commemorate the spot where a cyclist was hit by a car and killed on an October afternoon of this year. The cyclist was a 69-year-old man named Charles Braun and the driver of the car a 23-year-old woman. The driver was said to have participated in a FaceTime video call when she walked through the stop sign around the corner and collided with Mr. Braun, ending her life.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr. Braun, and from what I have read he was a very valued member of our community. Losing a loved one is never easy, never. But losing someone in this way, in such a senseless act of stupidity and irresponsibility, puts me in shock.

The first time I encountered a ghost bike was on a sidewalk in downtown Austin, Texas in October 1998. The white bike was covered in flowers, photos and love letters, the display stretching for meters around it. There was a photo attached to that ghost bike, a photo of my son Ben. While riding his bicycle at the intersection, he was struck by a young woman who was crossing a red light. She was apparently looking for a CD on the floor of her car.

And that’s how it goes – doing something you know, or should know, is dangerous, like picking up a CD or making a video call on your phone while driving your car, your 3000 or 4 car. 000 pounds, and someone could be killed. And they do.

In Ben’s case, the 21-year-old woman who killed him admitted to police that she had a drink earlier that evening. Now you would think that would prompt them to test her blood alcohol level since she had just killed someone. But you would be wrong. No such test was administered.

It always seemed to me that they hadn’t bothered to test her because she was a young white girl, driving an Acura. And it is inevitably evident after the last few years that some police officers treat people of color in a way that they do not treat white people. Ben was also white, but very dark skinned from a recent trip to Costa Rica. Perhaps if their roles in this tragedy had been reversed, Ben had turned on that red light, and she had been killed crossing the intersection on her bicycle, things would have turned out quite differently. He would surely have been arrested on the spot and of course subjected to drug and alcohol tests.

In fact, he was tested for drugs and alcohol, but not until his death. Why, I ask you, was it necessary? Were they trying to blame his death on him rather than on the woman who had run over him with her car? I don’t have answers to these questions and never will. Ben’s test results came back negative, but we’ll never know what was floating in his blood that night.

She then negotiated her plea for a misdemeanor and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service and visit the murder scene once a month for a few years. And surprisingly, she was never accused of using that red light. She was able to continue her life. Ben wasn’t. There was no justice for Ben.

I’ve often wondered if anyone had been hit and killed like Ben, but in Northampton would things have been handled any differently than in Austin. Police reportedly made sure that a blood alcohol test was administered and treated her like the murder suspect that she was. There would have been a full investigation, an indictment, a trial and possibly a conviction. It wouldn’t have brought me back Ben, but I would have felt the right thing had been done.

In Mr. Braun’s case, the driver of the car that killed him was stopped and charged with negligent driving homicide, failing to stop for a stop sign and using an electronic device while driving. His driver’s license has been suspended and cannot leave the state without permission. Seems like a good start to me.

The woman who hit Ben was also charged with criminally negligent homicide, but was allowed to continue driving and was never ticketed for passing a red light. And of course, she walked away free with barely a slap on the wrist.

I want justice for Charles Braun, justice my son never received. I have hope that here in our community we will see that justice will come.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, can be reached at

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Newsrust - US Top News: Columnist Karen Gardner: Justice for Cyclists
Columnist Karen Gardner: Justice for Cyclists
Newsrust - US Top News
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