Loved ones of just a couple of the 240 people killed in Seattle traffic in the past decade spoke to a gathering of friends, first responders, city officials, safe streets advocates and neighbors Thursday at City Hall.
Neighbors then took their area’s share of the 212 silhouette figures event planners made (“There were actually 240 people killed on Seattle streets, but some of the places are just too dangerous to out up a silhouette,” said Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Director Cathy Tuttle). Some have already been installed at the sites of people’s deaths in traffic. Others will be put up by neighborhood groups Sunday. You can see the list of those neighborhood efforts on our previous post.
So every time you see a silhouette, that was a person’s life. The scale of this public health emergency is immense even in Seattle, which has among the safest streets among major U.S. cities. We can and must do better.
I want to thank the loved ones who spoke and wrote letters for the event Thursday. Give yourself time to read their words, posted in full below.
First, this letter from Dan Schulte, whose family was devastated when a drunk man behind driving a pickup struck his parents, wife and infant son on NE 75th Street in 2013. His parents Judy and Dennis were killed, and his wife Karina and infant son Elias were critically injured. Dan’s ability to seek light in the face of darkness is truly inspiring:
Thank you for gathering on this International World Day of Remembrance. I wish I could be with you in person in Seattle but am traveling for the holidays.
I’m writing this to share my family’s story of a very bad road traffic tragedy and our triumph over despair. I also want to pay respect to those in the community that gave us critical support when we needed it most. I’ll explain my immense gratitude for the many, many people that came together in response, especially the first responders that my family is forever indebted to. I will specifically honor and remember my parents who died in 2013 in Northeast Seattle and tell their inspiring story of building community and looking out for our kids.
In late 2012 and early 2013, my wife Karina and I were preparing for the birth of our son Elias. We were so happy in the months leading up to his birth. We were both transplants (we came in 2007 via Boston, Indiana and Chile) but felt very at home in Seattle with good jobs and a great group of friends. We knew Elias was going to love Seattle and were confident he had some amazing opportunities ahead. We were on our way to owning our first home in the Wedgwood-Bryant community. We couldn’t have been more excited to welcome our first child to the world. We were ready.
My parents Dennis and Judy were also elated with the news of their first grandchild on the way. I’d rarely seen them so happy, if ever. At the time, they were recently retired educators that worked in high schools in northcentral Indiana for over 30 years. My dad was a math teacher and my mom was an English teacher and then later a guidance counselor. My dad was also a coach that inspired kids in so many ways over the years. He was a great role model in every sense. My mom was a leader at the church, school and in the community. She worked with too many local committees and clubs to name. She also found time to take care of the entire family. She was a primary caregiver for my grandmother, for example, who battled Parkinson’s disease for over 25 years. Somehow, they also managed to be the best parents any son or daughter could ask for.
When they retired they continued to help kids by running a local food bank during the worst years of the economic recession. Their town in Indiana was hit especially hard. My parents loved their country and community and did all they could to stand up for impoverished schoolchildren. My mom was the main organizer and my dad helped with everything, even packing and driving the truckloads.
As soon as they heard they were going to be grandparents they began plotting how to move to Seattle to be with us. They arrived a few weeks before Elias’s birth. It was a hard decision to move but nothing brought them more joy than the thought of a grandchild.
Then the big day came on March 15; our son was born. We were all very happy to have this new child in our lives. Things could not have been brighter. In fact the first nine days of Elias’s life, could very well be the happiest days I will ever have. I will treasure those moments forever. Karina and I were filled with happiness. My parents loved their new grandson with the fullest of hearts. We were so lucky to share that time with them.
On Day 10, with a sudden shock, the worst imaginable nightmare became reality. That morning I went back to work for the first time. Late afternoon I was trying to check in with Karina and my parents but couldn’t get through to them. I did not know it at first but the four of them (Karina, Elias and my parents) went out for a walk in our neighborhood. They walked north, probably taking the shortest route from our house to my parents’ new apartment just to the northeast. They were struck by a truck while they were crossing NE 75th street. They were less than a block from a busy elementary school. Karina and I and everyone else in the neighborhood had crossed that spot a million times. You have to look both ways of course, but if a speeding car comes over the hills without noticing you just like on any other hilly street in Seattle it can be deadly. You might not even see an oncoming vehicle when you look both ways in the first place because of the dips between the hills, a car might be in that dip. This in fact is what happened to my family according to witnesses and police.
Drivers have plenty of time to see pedestrians and any aware driver would have stopped for them. But this driver was drunk, more than three times the limit. He didn’t even brake until after he hit the four of them. It turned out he was a multiple DUI offender with a long record of alcoholism. He should have been unable to drive. It was 4pm and he was hammered and behind the wheel.
Sadly, my dad was killed instantly. My mom died a few minutes later. I don’t think they ever had a chance.
My wife and son both came within inches of losing their lives. Karina was bleeding seriously and suffered several fractures and unknown at first, multiple head injuries. Karina, my beautiful wife. Elias was not even breathing when the first responders arrived. My ten-day old son.
Fortunately, they were both treated in the best possible way. The first responders saved Karina with blood supplies. They saved Elias by resuscitating him. Without these and other early treatments neither of them would have had a chance and they would have met the same fate as my parents. I am so grateful for the first responders. Of all members of our society, the first responders are some of the most hidden and most valuable heroes. We are so grateful for all they did. We will never forget them.
After the first responders, the next line of care came from the excellent people at UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital. I met doctor after doctor and nurse after nurse over the course of the next several weeks and months even. Without particular decisions going a particular way at a particular time, it is possible that Karina and Elias would not have made the remarkable recoveries they’ve made. Elias was out of the hospital after a month. Karina spent close to seven months in hospitals and health care facilities. So many people from all different backgrounds and beliefs and occupations in our great city stepped up to play a role in their recovery. It is truly remarkable to see the compassion across all spheres of culture. It’s one of the greatest characteristics of cities like Seattle.
The next wave of support came from my family, friends and colleagues. My family flew in from all over. My sister and sister-in-law, in particular, lifted me up. My sister stayed with us for a year. I could not have managed life without her. Our friends came to help too. Everyone came together in a way that I’ve never seen or experienced before. Our colleagues from Seattle Children’s and C+C supported us to such an extent that we truly did not have to worry about work at all. I feel very fortunate in that regard. Being that Karina worked at Children’s we also had access to resources that I’m not sure every family would have. We were so lucky.
This is all not to mention the people in the community and across the state including neighbors we didn’t know: organizers, non-profit leaders, journalists, volunteers, business owners, local congressmen and women, former Mayor McGinn, the local and state police, our lawyers, other government officials, and Governor Inslee. They all stood up for us and many continue to do so. They held vigils, marches, press conferences, meetings and passed legislation. They helped us navigate the insurance and legal battles that to this day are ongoing. They setup funds for us that made it possible to not worry about finances and focus on the more pressing issues.
I could not be more proud to live in a place where this kind of community cultivates such a strong sense of togetherness in face of tragedy.
Now here we are three years later and because of the first responders and the amazing community I just spoke about, we survived, recovered and continue to endure in our space of the universe. We are happy in a new home. We are all healthy. I’m working again and have even grown to love my other job of being a full-time caregiver for my family. Although Karina and Elias have life-long brain injuries, they are both a great joy to be around. Tragedies like ours somehow gave me a purpose in life I was not expecting but take on with pride and grace as much as possible.
Following in my parents’ footsteps, I’ve focused on trying to care for my family and help with the causes I care about. I do my best to live like they did, focused on making the world a better place, both my own small world and the larger world around me.
Karina has made a remarkable recovery. She had to relearn how to eat, speak and walk. Now she’s doing all those things and much more. Elias is coming up on 4 years old now. He gets the best care one can ask for from Seattle Children’s and other doctors. He’s also in preschool now, which is going great. We do not know what the future holds from him but he is happy and healthy right now and that is what is most important. I’m so proud of them both.
Lastly, one more word or two about my parents. I want to recognize again what they taught me about caring for others. In times of tragedy and strife, we have each other. They showed me that we can all be heroes and we can all help others through kindness and empathy. Nothing is more fulfilling than caring for others, if you ask me. The problems of the future seem quite small when compared to what my family has gone through. Even when the world explodes on you, there can be a great light that follows. For us that light was the grace and community that built around us. This keeps me optimistic about the future.
So I say in the face of what some may think is a perilous future, we will continue to stand together and protect each other. We must. That starts with local actions like advocating for good causes like safe streets and also includes supporting leaders that truly help make our communities more livable and safe. It means smart plans like the one in Washington that targets “zero” deaths from drunk, distracted and drugged driving. It means coming together to support each other when the future looks bleak. That is when it is needed most. That is when it is most valuable. That is what I’m most grateful for.
If there’s one thing this whole tragic but yet beautiful experience has taught me, it’s that even when things look as dark as possible there is still a chance. There is still a light. You are never alone. I hope that others who have gone through tragedy or will in the future will never feel alone. I’m with you if you are listening and on this international day, people all around the world are with you as well. May we all share peace and remember those who passed before us for inspiration.
This letter was written in memory and honor of Dennis and Judy Schulte, who died on March 25, 2013 on the streets of Seattle.
Marilyn Black shared a poem by her late husband Max Richards, who was killed while crossing Belmont Ave E on Capitol Hill just a couple months ago. Thank you, Marilyn.
Day of the Dead, Seattle
by Max Richards, November 2015
Latino culture, here? – at this place of Jesuits –
oh yes, Halloween’s their Day of the Dead.
So, sheltering from rain in Saint Ignatius’
new chapel (curvaceous, asymmetrical, hush-
inducing) for the campus my wife studies at,
till she meets me after class, I gape just
a moment at the makeshift layout:
a small table, glittering skulls, bright
vegetables; roses real, marigolds not;
candles, burned down, hollowed out;
an exercise book people have written in,
names of their lost ones; paper to write on,
words for their lost ones, add to a basket.
My wife comes, feels the spirit as I can’t,
writes words for her cousin recently lost,
folds them over for the full basket.
Last Monday was Week 7 of the 2016 Fall Quarter at Seattle University. There was for the first time this Fall a wintry chill in the air. Seven weeks before, on the day before the new academic year was due to start, it was a glorious, still warm Fall morning on September 21st, when my husband – the late poet Max Richards, who penned the poem I’ve just read to you – was killed by a car that collided with him as he was legally crossing the road with our fair Labrador “Pink”, one block from our Capitol Hill apartment. So, in the first chill of the season last Monday evening after class, I buttoned up my coat and headed deliberately for St Ignatius chapel – though I had in previous weeks avoided the lovely place of worship which had special significance for Max and me as our favored rendezvous point. Since Max’s death I had struggled with the painful grief I felt when passing the chapel after class and finding my husband missing – not waiting for me as usual, not rising from his seat with his happy smile and his hand at the ready to relieve me of my heavy backpack.
But last Monday I managed the heavy backpack and the heavy door, finding my way into the chapel from where I walked calmly to the Day of the Dead altar. The height of the festival had been and gone, however, so I was too late for the roses real, and had to make do with the marigolds, not real. Neither were the slips of paper and the overflowing basket on hand, but the Book of the Dead was on display – and much more grand than last year’s “exercise book” it was. Grand too were the ghoulish skulls adorning the altar. The act of adding my husband’s name to the end of the lengthy list struck me as a most surreal experience, even considering the fact that everything in the aftermath of Max’s demise has seemed surreal, as if the realm of the real died along with my husband on September 21st. On account of this altered consciousness that currently renders a blurry tinge to all my impressions, I resolved to take a photograph of the bizarre and yet strangely comforting sight of my husband’s name in the grand book that was filling up indeed. My husband’s name…known to me for more than thirty years more intimately than my own, and here I was, writing it into a book of the dead… How could this be true? We were following through on the adventure of our lives; how could he have left me here all alone? Thus, I point my iPhone calmly, expertly at the altar, and as I press the button, the phone promptly dies. Very odd this is – the battery apparently exhausted, but it was at 70 percent I had noted before going to press the shutter.
As I was leaving the campus afterwards, a classmate caught up with me and kindly asked how I was faring. I told her about the experience in the chapel, told her how annoyed I was, and also puzzled, by the misbehavior of my iPhone.
“Oh”, she said, “did you feel Max was there with you, by any chance?” She knows I am skeptical about such things, but I was able to tell her that I was aware of a strange calm that came over me at the altar. A kind of peace.
“I would say his spirit was definitely there with you, then,” she says, with some intensity. “When Spirits try to communicate with loved ones on earth, they utilize all the energy available. That’s why your phone went flat…”
I am intrigued by my friend’s almost scientific account of contact between the living and the dead. Aware too that she has some experience working as a medium, I am not surprised when she goes on to ask:
“Can you imagine what Max might be wishing to share with you?”
“Perhaps his wonder that this year it should be his name entered into the book of the dead, a possibility that was far from his mind when we stood before that same altar together last year” I muse, purely projecting, of course.
“And is there a question you’d like to put to him?” she continues, unfazed.
Feeling myself now on solid ground, no deliberation is necessary:
“Oh yes, for sure. I want to ask him how I’m meant to live without him, for I have absolutely no clue…”
Presented at World Remembrance Day
Seattle City Hall
November 17, 2016
In memory of my beloved husband, Max Richards, who was killed on September 21st, 2016.
Writu Kakshapati spoke about her family friend Sandhya Khadka, who was killed in 2014 while walking to catch the bus to North Seattle College. She was only 17. The loss of Sandhya is a major loss to the world. We’ll never know the impact she was going to have in her life. Kakshapati shared an essay Sandhya wrote for a class just a couple months before she died.
People around Sandhya would describe her as caring, understanding, compassionate, and able to connect with people at a deeper level, irrespective of what their backgrounds were. Her friends ranged from young to people decades older than her. She was way mature for her age.
She was disciplined and had a lot of self control. She thought before she spoke and was not afraid to disagree with people, but ever so politely and thoughtfully.
Every day, she allocated some time for self reflection and was serious about her path forward and what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be an entrepreneur and actively participate in social issues that she deeply cared about, women’s health and kids in foster care.
Here is her essay where she reflects on her life. The essay was given to the family by her college professor at her memorial service.
The Khadka family is very grateful for the kind support and outpour of love that they received from their neighbors and community and Cathy Tuttle, Seattle Neighborhood greenways, that are dedicated to make the streets of Seattle safer for all.