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Spurred by tragedy, Kristi Finney dedicates herself to activism

Posted by on April 13th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Transportation Safety Summit-21
Kristi Finney (center right) has turned grief into action
after losing her son to a drunk driver last August.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The mother of a young man killed by a drunk driver while bicycling on SE Division last year has become a dedicated traffic safety activist. Since the death of her son Dustin on August 12th, Kristi Finney has become a student of traffic safety policies and Oregon vehicle law and has devoted herself to civic engagement at every opportunity.

We got our first hint at Mrs. Finney’s composure and compassion when, at the sentencing hearing of 19-year-old Ashawntae Rosemon (the man who struck Dustin, and then fled the scene), she looked him in the eye and said:

“Most of us in the courtroom today are here here because you’ve changed our lives. In your drunkenness and self-centered uncaring for others, you’ve stole the life of a very gifted young man and impacted forever the lives forever of those who knew and loved him, and, those who knew and loved you.”

In the months that have followed, Finney has been very active in local traffic safety projects and events (she also comments here on BikePortland). She showed up to an open house for the City’s Division Streetscape Project. At the Mayor’s Transportation Safety Summit last month, Finney (and her family) set up a booth to share their tragedy as a reminder of what’s at stake. The booth (below) had photos of a smiling Dustin juxtaposed with police reports that include graphic details of that fateful morning in August. She even carries around Dustin’s mangled bike, with the police evidence tag still hanging from the bars, as a poignant symbol of why we need to do more to make roads safe for all users.

Transportation Safety Summit-12

At that summit she stood with an urn full of Dustin’s ashes and told the crowd, “… My goal for my son Dustin and the rest of my family is to help people realize that it can happen to them. I don’t want anyone else to have a story like mine.”

Kristi Finney at summit

A few days ago I got a call from Kristi. She wanted to know if I could help her find information on the sentencing hearing for Artyom Pavlenko, the man who hit and killed 18-year-old Michael Vu as he biked near his home in Oregon City in July. I was able to connect her with Vu’s family and friends who are organizing a rally at the Clackamas County courthouse. (Stay tuned for more from these folks, they are mobilizing to push for stronger hit-and-run laws in Oregon.)

Finney’s desire to share her story and raise awareness for the consequences of drunk driving and unsafe streets, has also earned her a spot on the Trauma Nurses Talk Tough team. This group, based at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in North Portland, has built a respected program that educates people in a very direct and visceral way about the carnage that can result from decisions we make while driving and biking. Finney will be speaking at a class for DUII offenders once a month and the High Risk Driver class twice a month.

Kristi will also be at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit next week to learn, network, and share her story. “I am looking forward to all that I can learn and all the people I might meet there,” she wrote me in an email.

Like we saw when Susan Kubota emerged as a powerful voice after our tragic October of 2007, Finney has already begun to turn her grief and frustration into something positive for our community. I for one, am thankful for her strength.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Andrew K April 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    First I want to hug her. Then I want to stand next to her and say thank you.

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    • 9watts April 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Thank you, Kristi, for taking such a constructive approach. We can all learn from your example.

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  • spare_wheel April 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    The failure of PBOT to carve out space for cyclists on heavily used arterials is tragic and inexcusable:

    “Although the project is not proposing any bike lanes along Division Street”


    Bike lanes on Hawthorne, 20th, and Division should be a priority. These streets are far more dangerous than Williams.

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    • spare_wheel April 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Sharrows would also be a huge improvement!

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    • NF April 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Squeezing cars down to a single lane of travel should be the objective on all streets. Not only does this provide space for a bike facility, it slows down cars through reduced travel speed and increased congestion.

      Drivers on Division should look out their window longingly at the bicyclists flying down the protected cycle track beside them. Maybe then they’ll decide to give bikes a try.

      What I don’t get is how residents and businesses get so attached to having multiple lanes of traffic. Who on Division St. wouldn’t want their block to be more like N Mississippi, NW 23rd, NE Alberta, or NE 28th? And unlike those streets, they could have a world class bikeway to go with it.

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      • BURR April 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

        but there won’t be any world class bikeway, only more curbside parking.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      bummed to hear that about Division project. I honestly and unfortunately have not kept a close eye on that one. How does this stuff happen? Where are the smart bike people I’m always writing about? What tradeoff was agreed to on Division?… oh wait, I think the conversation went like this… Well, you have Clinton just one street over, so lets encourage folks to use that instead. grr. frustrating. I’ll look into it and report back.

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      • A.K. April 15, 2012 at 8:59 am

        The unfortunate part is that Clinton sort of peters out as you get close to the 80s. You are forced to zig-zag around unless you want to bike over the worst unpaved streets in Portland. Totally unacceptable for a supposed “world class biking city”.

        It’s easier and faster to take Division once you get up that far east. We just want the same thing as drivers (of which I’m one as well) – fairly direct, safe access to where we are going via bike.

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  • BURR April 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    The Division Streetscape project is going to stink for cyclists who use Division Street. They are going to remove the two pro-time lanes which are now lightly used for curb-side parking and function as de-facto 9-foot wide bike lanes for most of their length, and instead install curb extensions and allow 24-hour parking on both sides of the street, which will force cyclists out into the motor vehicle traffic in the single travel lane in each direction.

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  • Spiffy April 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    this is an awesome way for her to give a better life to her fellow citizens… unfortunate circumstances, but I welcome her efforts…

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  • Jeffrey Bernards April 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Clinton & Lincoln are very viable “safe” options. I live off Division, who wants to ride down Division anyway? The bike boulevards are only 1 block each way. Let cars have Division, it’s not that bike friendly anyway, it’s just too narrow to do much with. I want to get along with cars, using the bike boulevard accomplishes that.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      I hear you Jeff, and that’s a valid perspective. But the larger point in this is how we are building our city. Should we be building a city for people to move around and live in a way that promotes the health of our citizens and our surroundings… Or should we continue to build our streets to accommodate (and therefore encourage the use of) single-occupancy motor vehicles? I choose the former, so every time we build a road project that makes driving convenient, we continue to perpetuate a status quo that will not allow us to reach the goals we’ve laid out in our cherished city planning documents.

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    • BURR April 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      Plenty of people want to ride on Division, sit in the beer garden at Apex any evening and watch them go by. The pro-time lanes on Division are great for cyclists, it’s a mostly unobstructed 9-foot bike lane from SE 12th directly to New Seasons and beyond, without any significant interactions with the adjacent motor vehicle traffic.

      And the Clinton and Lincoln/Harrison bike boulevards are not ‘one block away’. Clinton is two blocks south of Division (Ivon in between), and Lincoln/Harrison is four to five blocks north of Division (Caruthers, Sherman, Grant and Lincoln (in the western section below 29th) are in between).

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      • BURR April 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm

        not to mention that squeezing Division down to one full-time lane in each direction is going to reduce capacity and divert motor vehicle traffic over to Clinton and other parallel neighborhood streets.

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    • spare_wheel April 14, 2012 at 8:40 am

      When you ride to a store or restaurant on Division do you dismount and walk your bike on the sidewalk to avoid conflict with motorists? Because you choose not to ride arterials does not mean they should not also be made safer for the many cyclists who do.

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      • middle of the road guy April 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm

        Considering how few people get killed or hurt, it seems they are quite safe already.

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        • wsbob April 17, 2012 at 10:57 pm

          Well sure, there’s a kind of logic there…any street where not many people get killed or hurt while riding a bike despite car after car whipping a foot or two away from people riding must be safe.

          People that find themselves thinking, ‘Gee wouldn’t it be something if the cranky old mother in law met with some kind of unfortunate consequence?’, might just consider a street that meets middle of the road guy’s criteria for what a safe arterial is, a perfect suggested ride for the old gal.

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    • A.K. April 15, 2012 at 9:03 am

      *Raises hand* I want to bike on Division, and I actually have to when I bike to work, so I can meet up with the 205 path. Riding on Division is unavoidable, and early in the morning around 7 am not that busy with cars.

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  • Caroline April 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    *Awesome* work, Kristi!

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  • Emily April 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you Kristi!!! It is so wonderful that you’re using such a tragic experience in a constructive way.

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  • Cruzmaribel April 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    I am so humbled by your mom, she is so strong and I can draw a little strength from her example. I do not personaly know what it is that she feels but I can imagine and I know that she is strong, cause I love each of my children so much. I am feeling proud with you as well of your mom.

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  • Antload April 14, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Thank-you Kristi.

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  • jim April 14, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Kudos for Kristi. There is no telling just how huge of a difference she has made in safety…. People charged with offenses should be made to listen to one of her presentations.

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  • Joe Rowe April 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Kristi was an amazing person to meet in person. Her exhibit should be duplicated at every high school and event where drunk drivers must do community service. Her exhibit had the police report, and it was clear that one of the cops was biased against her son just minutes after the crash. THere is documented and excessive attention on if her sons’ bike had functioning lights. WTF. The back end of the bike exploded, and did clearly have a light. A car had run down two bikes and fled, and one cop is wasting time documenting about if batteries were installed? OMFG.

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  • Joe April 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you, Kristi! what a powerful mission

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