Spurred by tragedy, Kristi Finney dedicates herself to activism

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.

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.”

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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