Finding outlets for grief and healing after a traffic crash
In my first week as the new coordinator of San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets, I attended a virtual support event for people who have been personally affected by a traffic crash.
I didn’t know what to expect from the gathering, titled “Honoring Our Loved Ones and Acknowledging Our Injuries.”
But over the next hour, I was moved to tears and inspired by what I heard – including the stories from people who are part of our very own Families for Safe Streets community here in the Bay Area.
I think their stories, shared here with permission, may help others looking for outlets for grief and healing. Their stories also show more of the ways the Families for Safe Streets community support one another and broader changes.
Honoring Kyle’s memory through animal rescue and more
Gina LaBlanc’s son Kyle was a curly-haired computer genius, basketball player, and occasional disc jockey. Kyle also loved animals.
In January 2016, Kyle was only five months away from his high school graduation when he was hit and killed by a speeding driver as he walked to a light rail station in San Jose. Since this horrific loss, Gina has become a vocal advocate for safe streets policies and systemic changes to prevent others from going through what she has.
But telling Kyle’s story to decision-makers and the media is incredibly difficult and draining. So Gina recharges her ‘safe streets advocacy battery’, as she describes it, by volunteering for causes Kyle cared about and that feel more immediate.
“Volunteering at an animal shelter is something I know Kyle would be proud of,” said Gina. “It gives me a sense of meaning within my grief.”
Gina, a retired nurse, also screens youth for cardiac abnormalities as a volunteer with the Kyle J. Taylor Foundation. She’s screened hundreds of teens, helping identify those at risk, so they can get preventative treatment for their heart conditions. Averting a potential tragedy for a young person and their family is a balm for Gina’s heart.
Reclaiming Julie’s joy of running after a crash that broke her neck and back
On January 4, 2020, Julie Nicholson went on a celebratory run. Her husband had just had his last chemo treatment.
But as she ran through the Panhandle in San Francisco, two reckless drivers collided, with one of them jumping the curb. Julie was hit and thrown 20 feet. The impact of the crash broke her neck and back, and caused deep tissue injuries.
To Julie and her medical team, her recovery was incredible. The doctors predicted she would never run again. It took eight months for Julie to physically heal, and despite the odds, she’s back to running regularly.
To emotionally heal, Julie said, “I wanted to give back, to bring attention to the problem of unsafe streets.” She decided to organize a run to both acknowledge the anniversary of her crash and address the traffic safety crisis she was now all-too-aware of.
With the support of Families for Safe Streets, Julie ultimately ran what was coined the #RunforSafeStreets (read more in the San Francisco Chronicle). About 20 people showed up to run an entire half-marathon with Julie, pausing at fatal crash sites around San Francisco, and ending at the site of her own crash.
Riding to remember Sylvia and others injured or killed while cycling
Sylvia Bingham had just graduated from college and had just landed her dream job. She was excited to bicycle to and from work every day. On September 15, 2009, her life was cut all-too short when she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run truck driver on her ride into work.
Sylvia’s father, Stephen Bingham organizes an annual bike ride in honor of his daughter Sylvia. Like Julie’s half-marathon, the Ride of Silence is a way to remember and raise awareness of what’s happening on our streets. Every May, Steve organizes the Ride of Silence in Marin County where he lives, a solemn group ride to honor those injured or killed while biking.
If you’re looking for outlets as you navigate life post-crash, know that the Families for Safe Streets community is here for you. Please reach out anytime to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets, including the emotional support resources and events we offer. To learn more about the Families for Safe Streets movement nationally, read the New Yorker piece.
Banner image by William McLeod from the 2021 World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.