What were you doing when you were 22 years old? You may have been looking forward to graduating from college in a few short months, or you were working in a dead end job that you hated. Perhaps you were falling in love, or cursing your ex’s name. Whatever you were doing, if you’re reading this, you thankfully survived that youthful, reckless year in your life.
That unfortunately can’t be said for Hector Rios, who may have been the first person to die in Hartford in 2018. Just three hours after New Years, his car slammed into a brick pillar near Trinity College, killing him and seriously injuring his passenger, Natasha Cruz.
How about at 23 or 24? Had you finally found a good job? Were you in a better relationship? Was there a movie you were looking forward to, or an album you really liked? Some of those things might have been true for 23 year old Catalina Melendez and 24 year old Tina Fontanez, both of whom were killed by a hit and run driver on Vine Street two weeks ago.
Imagine yourself at twelve years old, gangly armed, covered in pimples and dealing with your body going haywire as you begin to notice the other kids around you are developing too. Now imagine losing your mother during that time, in a violent instant, right before your eyes. That’s the reality for the child of Deidre Gray, who died in a four car collision on January 25th. Her child was a passenger in the car.
One month. Three accidents. Four deaths.
Hartford has a serious traffic problem. I’m a pedestrian; I don’t have a license, much less a car. But even as someone who walks around the city, I’m acutely aware of the lawless way some people drive in this city. I cross the intersection of Capen and Main Street almost every day, and cars run the red light there so frequently that I don’t wait for the walk signal to cross. Instead, I try to wait for there to be no traffic at all. I still make my ten year old son hold my hand when we cross streets. Not that it’ll make a difference when a speeding vehicle shoots through a stop sign, we’d just die together after getting hit, like Catalina and Tina did.
Or maybe not. After all, I was hit by a car late last year while riding my bike. It was just a tap, but the woman pulling off of Battle Street didn’t even look up until she felt her car bump me and heard me shouting obscenities at her. Death isn’t guaranteed in a car accident, but accidents are guaranteed with the dangerous way basic rules of the road are ignored.
It was ten years ago that Hartford made the national news for the hit-and-run accident that paralyzed, and eventually killed, Angel Arce Torres. The conversation that came out of that accident centered on Hartford resident’s supposed “toxic relationship with ourselves,” due in part to the bystanders who allegedly refused to help Mr. Torres. The city’s residents pushed back against that characterization, and rightfully so. Yet the argument about our toxicity prevented the discussion from going to the place it should have: what do we need to do to make Hartford’s roads safe? Everything needs to be on the table, including more enforcement. I know that isn’t a popular opinion, especially given the well deserved critiques of policing policies against people of color. Four people died this month though, all people of color. We need to talk seriously about whether more cameras and more patrol cars could have saved those lives, and whether they can help prevent the inevitable deaths that will follow if we don’t change something.
CORRECTION: There was a fifth car crash this month which claimed the life of 61 year old Miriam Garcia.