By Greg Bluestein
ABOVE PHOTO: Raquel Nelson is shown with her son in the Today Show screen catcher photo.
Credit: Today Show, NBC
MARIETTA, Ga. — A Georgia woman received a year of probation on Tuesday in the jaywalking death of her 4-year-old son, but the judge also made the unusual move of offering her a chance to clear her name at a new trial. The mother of two surviving children says she’s satisfied with the outcome of the hearing.
Raquel Nelson was convicted by a jury this month of vehicular homicide for allowing her son to dart into the busy street north of Atlanta in April. She could have received as many as three years in prison — which would have been a much longer sentence than the one for the hit-and-run driver who struck the boy.
Nelson appeared happy as she left the court and thanked those who had helped and supported her.
“I’m walking out of here. I don’t feel like I can be more satisfied,” she said. “I’m ready to go home.”
Judge Kathryn Tanksley gave the 30-year-old woman a sentence that also includes 40 hours of community service, but she made the surprising offer of a new trial. If Nelson is found innocent, her record would be cleared. Her attorney David Savoy said they plan to take the judge up on the offer.
The death happened as Nelson was attempting to cross a busy five-lane street in Cobb County to get to her apartment after getting off a local bus, Savoy said.
The stop is about three-tenths of a mile from the nearest crosswalk, so Nelson and her family routinely crossed the middle of the street. She led her family to a median in the middle of the road and as they waited for traffic to die down, her daughter bolted across the street and her son followed. She chased after them when a van struck.
The driver, Jerry Guy, was sentenced to six months after pleading guilty to hit-and-run.
Some have expressed outrage at the handling of the case. It’s rare for someone to be tried and convicted on the homicide charge for crossing the street away from the crosswalk, a pedestrian advocate said.
“It’s really cruel and a big waste of taxpayer money,” said Sally Flocks, founder of PEDS, an Atlanta pedestrian advocacy group. “What is anybody going to learn from this? Raquel lost her precious son. The lesson she learned already is quit using transit and buy a car to get around. It’s too dangerous to cross the streets here.”