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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.

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Andrew K
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Andrew K

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

spare_wheel
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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”

http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=41107

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

BURR
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BURR

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.

Spiffy
Guest

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

Jeffrey Bernards
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Jeffrey Bernards

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.

Caroline
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Caroline

*Awesome* work, Kristi!

Emily
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Emily

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

Cruzmaribel
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Cruzmaribel

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.

Antload
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Antload

Thank-you Kristi.

jim
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jim

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.

Joe Rowe
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Joe Rowe

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.

Joe
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Joe

Thank you, Kristi! what a powerful mission