My husband came home from a shopping trip on Saturday, grim-faced and quiet. “A kid on a bike got hit by a car,” he said. I looked at him for more information. “Is he going to be okay? How do you know it was a kid? Did you see the crash?” “I saw the kid’s bike under the car,” he replied, and shook his head. He didn’t see the collision, or glimpse the victim, but from the position of the bike under the car, and the swarm of cop cars that responded, he suspected the worst.
The worst was confirmed by local news reports: A twelve-year-old boy named Joseph Michael Brausen was killed while riding his bike after a collision with a driver of a car just a few blocks from our home in downtown Hillsboro.
Although police and news reports say the collision occurred at or near the intersection of SE 10th Ave and Baseline St, my husband clarified that the car was facing west on the alley by the Starbucks”— that’s SE Gumleaf Lane at 10th Ave.
I wanted to pay my respects, bear witness, and try to figure out what happened, so I rode to the place my husband described. Sure enough, at the exact spot, the family of 12-year old Michael Brausen was there, tying balloons to a nearby pole and trying to put up signs with phrases like “Slow Down” and “Speeding Killed My Son” — but the wind kept blowing the signs down. I felt stupidly helpless and pathetically useless. What good are my tears or condolences to the family who lost their son forever?
Still, I wanted to try to figure out what happened. I wish I could rely on the official investigation for answers, but frankly, I don’t have a lot of faith in that process right now. So I went out to have a look for myself.
SE 10th Avenue is a very busy five or six lane road (it changes right at this spot). This section is known as “Calle Diez” by many Spanish-speaking locals because of the concentration of Latino-owned businesses. The City of Hillsboro is working on a plan to “enhance the livability” of this section of 10th because so many people feel it’s stressful and dangerous to walk on. At this location there is a concrete center median, so no left turns are possible onto the Gumleaf alley from northbound Baseline. My husband said the car was facing westbound on Gumleaf, which would suggest it was making a right turn from southbound 10th Ave onto Gumleaf (which is more of an alley or parking lot throughway than an actual street).
I wondered, and then timidly asked a relative standing nearby, “Do you think the boy was riding on the sidewalk?” “Oh yes,” he said, “he only rode on the sidewalk.” The family was very strict about that fact. “He always rode on the sidewalk,” he repeated.
And that made sense. 10th Ave is terrifying. There are no bike lanes. It’s very busy. I don’t even like walking on the sidewalk there, which feels narrow and frighteningly close to the passing cars. I have never biked in the road on that section of 10th Ave, and generally avoid it entirely. I don’t think a kid (nor most adults) would ever ride on the road there. The few times I have ridden it, I have used the sidewalk as the only option.
While it’s possible the boy was riding on Gumleaf, or crossing Gumleaf between the Walgreens and Starbucks parking lots, or even doing some kid bike behavior that an adult may not guess at, I suspect the boy was riding on the sidewalk along 10th Avenue, when the driver hit him as it turned onto the Gumleaf alley. The boy may have been crossing the alley “driveway” on the sidewalk as the car turned right into him. That’s my best guess, based on the few details I could gather. Maybe a surveillance camera from the adjacent Starbucks or Hillsboro PD office or other businesses will have recorded the collision. I hope investigators do a far and thorough investigation.
I have more to say, and much I am thinking about. But nothing I say, or write, or think, will restore the life that has been lost. So for the moment, I just want to offer my condolences. And to say that someone cares. I know there are tons of drivers passing by that very spot every minute, unaware, unknowing, and it may feel like no one cares. But I care, and many other cyclists care, and many other parents care, and many other advocates for safe streets care. And I know I speak for more than myself when I say: I’m so sorry for this untimely loss.