Thirteen-year-old Andrew Alati began biking southbound across Hempstead Turnpike on the afternoon of June 30, 2019. A thunderstorm had just rolled through, but the sun was back out and all eight lanes gleamed in the light like bright teeth.
Andrew was headed to Target. It was just on the other side. His friends Aiden and Ethan were already there. For years, the boys’ parents had driven them across the eight-lane thoroughfare that lay like a dividing line down the middle of the residential neighborhoods where the families lived. The street was a dark presence, a real monster. Everyone knew it. Drivers had hit a lot of people on Hempstead Turnpike in the last decade, an average of three a month.
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But Andrew and his friends were now officially teenagers and the parents had decided amongst themselves that it was time to let them cross on their own. The kids had lobbied for it because they went everywhere on their bikes in the summer and waiting on their parents to take them across was an affront to their liberty. Plus, it was embarrassing. Andrew’s mom, Diana, was the last to cave. She worried. She would always drive him across and drop him at the Speedway gas station on the far side so he could save face and ride the rest of the way to his friends waiting for him behind the high school. But how long could she keep that up?
So across Andrew went. He crossed, probably, in the crosswalk because he’d been taught he’d be protected there. But there wasn’t much protection. Only a narrow concrete median about the height of a curb down the middle of the turnpike, and a white-striped crosswalk. No dillydallying in a road like that. On that stretch of Hempstead Turnpike between Berger and Wantagh avenues in Levittown, a hamlet of around 50,000 residents on Long Island, the road is flanked by busy retail centers—a Target, a Mattress Firm, E Smoke & Beer Island, a Chase branch, a Dollar Tree. Cars buzz into and out of those parking lots all day.
Once he was across Hempstead Turnpike, Andrew pedaled up the Target parking lot with its capacity for some 620 cars. Finally he reached Aiden and Ethan. Andrew! Inside they played video games. They staged pool-noodle fights. They tried on clothes they had no intention of buying. It was summer. They were kids.
Back home Diana was making dinner.
Hempstead Turnpike is a congested section of state Highway 24 that starts at the edge of New York City, the eastern border of Queens, near a ballfield encircled by an on-ramp. It runs 16 miles east into Long Island, through Elmont, Franklin Square, West Hempstead, Hempstead, Uniondale, Salisbury, East Meadow, Levittown, Plainedge, and Farmingdale. These villages and hamlets, many of which comprise the town of Hempstead, are a mix of dense suburban development and commercial sprawl. Schools, libraries, and quaint homes with manicured lawns and immaculate fences steps away from bustling strip malls. The population density where it begins, in Queens County, is more than 21,000 people per square mile (much higher than the 429-per-square-mile average population density in the rest of the state). So many people with so many things to buy that they amass a crush of cars that squeeze through Hempstead Turnpike into a county, Nassau, with a quarter of that density. When a red light turns green, all the drivers accelerating collectively whoosh like one big beast exhaling.
The street is a conflict zone, where people driving cars and trucks clash with residents on foot, on bikes, in wheelchairs, on skateboards, on scooters. In many sections it is wider than an interstate. There are sidewalks but no bike lanes. Medians, where they exist, are generally low to the ground or just yellow paint on pavement. The speed limit on most sections is between 30 and 40 miles per hour, but drivers tend to ignore that, as they do on many arterials, when they’re not stuck in traffic. Off-peak, the average speed has been clocked at 50 to 55 mph. Some drivers do 65. Some drag-race at night.
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that the communities the turnpike runs through consistently have the highest annual death rate for cyclists and pedestrians in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In recent years, Hempstead Turnpike has been dubbed the most dangerous street in all of downstate New York and Connecticut and New Jersey by the Tri State Transportation Campaign, a regional advocacy group that studies traffic safety. According to data from the Nassau County and Hempstead Village police departments, drivers on Hempstead Turnpike hit more than 320 cyclists and pedestrians between 2011 and 2021, 13 of whom have died. (Six were killed during the year that I’ve been reporting this story.) And the collision toll is likely higher; cops generally know about an incident only if someone calls 911.
There’s a numbness in the numbers, though. They don’t tell you how, on the night of November 28, 2012, 6-year-old David Granados was sleeping in his bed when a bus jumped the curb on Hempstead Turnpike and crashed into his room and crushed him. Or how a high school kid was walking across Hempstead Turnpike on the morning of August 20, 2015, when the green light at the cross street turned red and a driver hit him. They don’t tell you how a 5-year-old boy was walking along the sidewalk of Hempstead Turnpike on April 19, 2016, when a driver pulled out of the Wells Fargo parking lot and struck him. They don’t tell you how a man police could not identify was biking across Hempstead Turnpike late at night on July 16, 2017, when a driver ran into him and then hit a telephone pole, and the man, bleeding out, died right there in the street. Nor do they tell you how, on June 4, 2021, 51-year-old John Franz was pushing his bike across Hempstead Turnpike when a driver hit him. Franz was a friend of Andrew’s family. He did not survive.
There are, of course, many monsters in America. In 2019, in Tampa, drivers killed 20 pedestrians and six cyclists, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. In Detroit, they killed 28 pedestrians and two cyclists. In Tucson: 41 pedestrians and six cyclists. Dallas: 59 pedestrians and three cyclists. Houston: 81 pedestrians and 16 cyclists. New York City: 118 pedestrians and 24 cyclists. When we asked our streets to accommodate higher speeds and more cars, what we traded was safety.
Staring down the scope of the violence can feel like looking into the sun, but let’s do it anyway. Can you guess how many soldiers we lost in battle in the 18 years following the attacks of September 11? Seven-thousand-and-fourteen. Now consider how many people not in cars were killed by people driving cars in the same timeframe: 112,519. U.S. drivers killed 16 times more Americans than were killed in combat after 9/11, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Seychelles, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, and Cuba.
And on that day two decades and one year ago, do you remember how many people died in the attacks on 9/11?
Two-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-six. About every five months, on average, that many people who are not in cars are killed by people driving cars. Picture that: Every five months, American Airlines Flight 11 flying into the North Tower and then United Airlines Flight 175 flying into the South Tower and then American Airlines Flight 77 flying into the Pentagon. Every five months, a national tragedy on a loop.
Andrew, Aiden, and Ethan got bored after an hour in Target that afternoon on June 30, 2019, so they returned to their bikes outside. Biking gave Andrew the independence few other things could give a kid. In the summer he’d go everywhere on his bike with his friends. They’d bike to the high school and play football, basketball, baseball, or lacrosse for eight hours, breaking only for Taco Bell or for Slurpees at the Speedway convenience store, where Andrew would mix all the flavors until they turned brown. Gross.
Sometimes they’d roll 19 or 20 strong, a herd of kids moving through their territory on paths only they knew. They were a community unto themselves. Centuries before them—before the crosswalks and sidewalks and the Walgreens and Wendy’s and the stinking exhaust and the blaring horns—the indigenous Rockaway people likely beat their own path into existence, walking west to east and east to west over sandy fields and muddy flats and fern gullies so dense in bramble they blinked out the sun. That path probably became Hempstead Turnpike.
Around the 1650s, English colonizers started widening the footpath for wagons. They filled pits with fallen trees and broken branches and packed them in dirt to hold them in place, but they routed around obstacles whenever they could. They only leveled the earth where they had to. They marked their path, as was the custom, with ax chops in trees. At first, the path saw few travelers, except in May when the purebred horses shook the ground in the great Hempstead Plains. Those races brought the masses. Hempstead Turnpike, from all the horse hooves and wagon wheels, would lay pocked and rutted for weeks afterward.
And it grew. In the span of some 200 years, it expanded to the width of a small airstrip. It matured from loose duff to packed dirt. By the 1880s it had grown into a layer of gravel that collected a fine dust and was flanked by flowering trees and summer homes.
Cyclists loved Hempstead Turnpike, and at the end of the 19th century people loved cycling. The pastime was booming. “Since I first learned to ride,” a woman told a reporter in 1897, “I have traveled all over Long Island, besides taking little trips up New York State and in New Jersey.” On one breezy Sunday a year later, Hempstead Turnpike saw some 70,000 cyclists pedaling to the military encampment in the plains. Seventy thousand! The farmers were so shocked they dropped their chores and sat on their stoops and hung on their gates and gaped, according to one reporter, at all “them bicycle fellers.”
Hempstead Turnpike was not born a monster. For two-thirds of its life, it was a narrow path through deep woods, a pleasing road over wind-bent plains.
Then came the cars.
AUTOMOBILES! newspaper ads from the time yelled. $100 to $5,000. Gasoline, Steam, Electric. Call, write, or phone first. FORD! One of the first. CADILLAC! The Standard of the World. READ CAREFULLY: Is your auto maker solid? You need to know because the day of reckoning in the automobile industry is here.
And it was. At the turn of the 20th century, cost of living was dropping while the spending power of the working class was climbing—and cars were cheap, cheap, cheap! PLYMOUTH! America’s Lowest-Priced Full-Size Car—$695.
More people could buy cars, and on Long Island, where the population doubled between 1920 and 1930, there were many more people to buy them. Most of the Long Islanders who bought cars saw them like most of the people who bought bicycles saw their bicycles—as vehicles for recreation—and they wanted places to recreate. By 1929, the state began planning scenic driving routes around the island, and Hempstead Turnpike was changing. “Many excellent motor roads converge at HEMPSTEAD,” a 1929 Long Island driver’s handbook read, “giving it the cognomen, ‘The Hub of Long Island.’”
Drivers had complained about its conditions. Hempstead Turnpike was bumpy. It was dusty. It was muddy. It was slow. But as car ownership grew, its ruts were flattened. Its surface was paved. Its streetlights were electrified. Many of the homes that lined the road were given garages. And when Hempstead Turnpike finally met their demands, drivers got possessive, and there were many more drivers. Cars and cars for blocks and blocks. Moving. Stopping. Moving. Stopping. Traffic like you wouldn’t believe.
It was as if everyone who’d once had a right to that road was now in the way.
Carriage drivers? Antiquated rubes creeping at the pace of the previous century. Bicyclists? They’d run you down and snatch your pearls and your purse. Public transportation, like Hempstead’s elevated subway? An “eyesore,” wrote a local reporter in 1929, “not adapted for use in congested sections.” Sidewalks? Misguided parking spaces. Pedestrians? A menace to the law-abiding, God-fearing driver. A police commissioner announced war against them in 1930, and five years later cops were ticketing pedestrians 14 times more than drivers.
All this ire for everyone else on the roads was conspicuous even at the time. People joked in the papers about how hated the pedestrian had become. One Brooklyn newspaper ran this headline: “Guns for Drivers to Shoot a Clear Path Really Needed.” “Indeed,” the author wrote, “the tribe of pedestrians would be completely wiped out and we could all drive…at 60 miles an hour, with nothing to collide with except other people’s cars.” Another paper, rather aptly, advertised for pedestrians “a goodly supply of Fourteenth Century armor.” “Bumpers,” it said, “can be welded on by a new process at almost any good service station.”
Drivers, you see, weren’t the problem. Everyone else was. But how did such a notion pop into their heads all at once?
The auto industry likes to sell itself as the product of consumer choice and free markets, but in reality, it is also a product of propaganda. Today most Americans who own a car don’t dwell on the people that car culture has killed. But they did in the early years. Those deaths were news, and they were bad news for the auto industry. So in 1924, the industry trade group, the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, launched a PR campaign. It told papers around the country that if they would provide the NACC with statistics about crashes in their cities, the NACC would write them stories about the traffic in their cities free of charge. The aim of this campaign was to shift the blame for the violence from their customers (the drivers of their cars) to the victims (the pedestrians and cyclists struck by those drivers).
And it worked, rapidly, says Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. “They shifted the dialogue,” he says. The same year the NACC launched its wire service, the pejorative term “jaywalker” entered the dictionary. It was a nasty word back then. Its crude roots are in “jay,” slang at the time for a country bumpkin, a peasant so ignorant, the auto industry told the public, they couldn’t even determine how to cross the street.
This early support for the automobile redefined our streets from public spaces for everyone into private spaces for drivers, Norton says. “This required changing laws, social norms, engineering standards, and perceptions of safety. By the 1930s,” he says, “motordom had mostly succeeded in this effort.”
From the beginning, drivers have killed, and there was a brief period where we, as a society, found that shocking. But then we just began to blame the victims.
Why did 50-year-old John Lyons have to be working on the railroad tracks that crossed Hempstead Turnpike so early that morning on December 12, 1909, at the exact time that a driver was speeding down the road? Sure, the driver hit him and flung him 15 feet and, yes, killed him, but the sun wasn’t even up. And we can admit the sleek car a Manhattan resident was driving on Hempstead Turnpike on August 23, 1910, did make contact with a 17-year-old on his bike, but isn’t it possible he was really the one who hit the car? And 75-year-old Charles Fleming, a retired actor who was walking across Hempstead Turnpike on the night of August 7, 1915, should think first about the trauma he surely caused the driver who knocked him down when he put himself in the way.
The three boys were biking now to Ethan’s house, which is on the same side of Hempstead Turnpike as Target, the south side. Andrew wouldn’t yet be crossing to get home on the north side. The boys’ parents always talked about what was the best age to let the kids cross on their own. Is 10 too young? Fourteen too old? “You never knew the right age,” Laura Byrne told me. She lives next door to the Alatis, grew up near Hempstead Turnpike, raised her kids near it, and watched other kids cross when they seemed too young. Byrne began letting her kids cross at 13 or so. Whenever they did, she made them call her so she could talk to them while they were crossing.
“There’s a lot of problems. It’s no secret,” says Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a regional planning group. Hempstead Turnpike is dangerous for the same reasons many American streets are. The turnpike cleaves suburban communities in half so kids like Andrew must cross it to see their friends. The turnpike defies common zoning sense by pitting people like Andrew with all the drivers drawn by commercial sprawl. The turnpike’s lanes are wide—more than enough room for a single car—so those drivers can drive faster more confidently. And, at times, those drivers ignore the speed limit. When traffic is light, “folks are driving at crazy speeds from stop light to stop light,” Alexander says. At its widest, Hempstead Turnpike is more than 90 feet across—the length of a basketball court—so pedestrians or cyclists must cross a great distance to reach the curb. When they get there, sometimes they have to step back into the street to get around a telephone pole. “It’s designed as a highway, essentially, and it’s going through these communities,” Alexander said. “There’s a tragic cost to that.”
But it’s progress, he says without irony, that today the New York DOT even acknowledges the problem. “Safety is always a top priority of the New York State Department of Transportation,” a spokesperson told me in a statement.
The agency used to blame the violence on “pedestrian error,” Alexander says. It was “joyfully hostile” to their needs. In 1996, for instance, when he and his group began advocating for safer streets, officials told Alexander that they are not designing roads for walking and biking on Long Island because Long Islanders don’t do those things—Long Islanders drive. “They said, ‘You change the land use, we’ll change the road.’”
In the last 25 years, the land use has changed, according to Vision Long Island polling. More people are walking and biking now. Only about a third of Long Islanders near the beginning of this century said they wanted to live in a downtown area, where you can get around without a car. A decade later, by 2012, nearly half of respondents said they wanted to live downtown. That trend has continued, Alexander said, and recently the pandemic has amplified it.
But the DOT, an enormous bureaucracy, hasn’t kept up, he says, and Hempstead Turnpike is still all about the automobile. “I don’t want to completely dump on them,” Alexander says. They are making changes, he adds, “but it’s been a rough, long road.”
In its statement, the DOT spokesperson said, “In recent years, NYSDOT has implemented hundreds of safety enhancements along Hempstead Turnpike (State Route 24) in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. These measures, intended to support road users of all abilities, include but are not limited to construction of new and wider crosswalks, installation of new high-visibility signage and pavement markings, raised pedestrian medians and refuge islands, and adjusted signal timing to calm traffic in key areas. The results of these enhancements have been overwhelmingly positive as crashes along this highway involving pedestrians and bicyclists have declined by more than 50 percent.”
These efforts are commendable, but when I crunched the numbers provided by the NYSDOT, I found that the figure is closer to 30 percent. So, yes, the DOT is making changes, just not as fast as it would like you to think.
By the time the three boys reached Ethan’s house that afternoon, they were hungry, so they hung around in the garage eating ice pops. But Andrew had worked up an appetite. He went to the freezer and started gnawing on Ethan’s peanut-butter-and-jelly Uncrustables. Didn’t even wait for them to defrost. What a crazy kid. Two years later his friends would laugh at that memory. Andrew made a lot of funny ones.
Like that time months earlier when Andrew helped his friend Liam trick his parents. Liam wanted to play baseball, but he was pretty bad. Every time he hit the ball that day it went nowhere. But Andrew was good at baseball. Really he was good at just about all the sports. A true athlete. So Andrew put on Liam’s hoodie, and they shot a video of Andrew looking like Liam smashing balls into the outfield. When Liam’s parents saw it, they thought, Wow. Maybe we should put him in baseball.
Andrew took to athletics. He learned to ride at age 4, when the family was visiting relatives in Italy. There was a bicycle at the home where they were staying. He picked it up and began pedaling circles in the gravel driveway. Just like that. That was Andrew, a real athlete. “Don’t get hurt!” his mom had said. And that was Diana. She worried.
In the summer, as soon as he and his older brother Angelo were big enough, their dad, Attilio, began taking them for three-hour rides around Long Island. They particularly liked the bike path that ran along Ocean Parkway. Most weekends they’d ride some 10 miles out to a food truck at Jones Beach and get hot dogs. Then they’d ride back in the ocean wind and Attilio would be pleased he had this to share with them.
Andrew’s bike was a blue and gray Trek that he covered with stickers: Fly High, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. He stuck the rims with LED-light strips so that they flashed like roulette wheels, and he spent hours in Aiden’s kitchen with the bike upside down, snapping blue and orange straws over each spoke. Blue and orange for the New York Islanders, his favorite hockey team.
The three boys had biked to a park when Aiden’s phone suddenly rang. It was his mom. Time for him to head home. He left on his bike, and Ethan and Andrew pedaled back to Target and went into the store.
Now Andrew’s phone rang. His mom. He stuffed it back into
It rang again: his dad. Andrew picked up.
“I said, ‘Get your ass home. It’s dinnertime.’ And that,” Attilio says, releasing a long breath, “is the last time I spoke to him.”
On June 30, 2019, Andrew entered the left lane on the far side of the road as a 19-year-old was driving down it in a red Toyota Camry. In a statement included in the police report, the driver said he was headed to Starbucks and estimated he was going 55 mph. The speed limit was 40. At 55 mph, it takes the distance of a football field to stop a car. Suddenly there was a boy on a bike in the road before him and now that boy and his bike were rolling up the hood and into the windshield that abruptly shattered and now they were airborne and now they were not and the driver was pulling off to the side of the road and running over to the boy lying in the road by his twisted bike but the boy wasn’t moving. It all happened so quickly. The driver called 911.
An hour and a half later, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Andrew was pronounced dead.
The Alatis sued the driver, as well as the Town of Hempstead and the County of Nassau, for allegedly causing Andrew’s death. The driver filed an answer in court, denying the family’s allegations and denying he is responsible. That lawsuit is still pending. The Alati family also sued the state, but the suit was dismissed, although they can refile if they are able to find evidence of a design flaw along the section of Hempstead Turnpike where Andrew was killed. Their attorney thinks it’s unlikely they will. The street appears designed precisely to engineering standards; it’s just that those standards prize the combustion engine over the beating heart.
(When reached by phone, the driver who hit Andrew declined to comment, citing pending litigation. His name has been withheld because he was not arrested or charged, and the civil lawsuit is ongoing.)
Ten days later, the local Levittown Tribune ran a letter titled “Boys and Bikes” that reported on Andrew’s death along with gangs of “harassing kids” weaving bikes in and out of traffic “for fun.” The author, a local pastor, was clear that the gangs he mentioned did not include Andrew and his friends, and he lamented Andrew’s death. But his tone was chiding and accusatory. “And as for those boys on bikes who started the summer by seeking thrills by creating havoc in traffic,” Father Ralph Sommer wrote, “I hope the real danger of mixing cars and bikes will become clear and they’ll find something constructive to do with their summer days.”
Drivers, you see, aren’t the problem. Everyone else is.
Incidents like these are rarely definitive. Records of such fleeting scenes often live only in the minds of the people involved, where they can play them and replay them like movie frames on celluloid that degrade with each rewinding, rewatching, retelling.
The driver told the police he thought he was driving faster than the speed limit. Andrew, according to the police report, did not have the cross signal. The police couldn’t tell whether Andrew was crossing on the crosswalk or in the street. But the police weren’t even there when it happened. The family’s lawsuit against New York State alleged that there was no crosswalk, or the crosswalk was improperly painted. Meanwhile, from a witness: “I saw a kid on a bike riding in the crosswalk. I then saw a small car hit the kid.”
But does any of this information, jumbled and conflicting, negate the value of Andrew’s life or the tragedy of his death?
Andrew was doing what most people do when the street looks clear, and the driver was doing what many drivers do when the street allows it. We do it daily. The thing is that the consequences for such actions can be absolute. You chance your life when you step off a curb, and you chance another’s if you speed in a car. On the day Andrew was killed, at least 12 other people not in cars were killed by people driving cars in America.
The day after Andrew was killed, drivers would continue killing, and by the end of the year they would kill some 3,907 more people not in cars.
The year Andrew was killed, the automobile industry sold or leased more than 62 million cars. It was an all-time high.
The value of those sales was $1.5 billion, a mighty windfall for the American economy. So were the jobs the industry maintained: 4.3 million the year Andrew was killed.
There is a garden behind Andrew’s middle school. A boomerang of dark mulch with a squat tree in the center and a bush on each edge. Pink and white and orange and red flowers shiver in the wind on a stormy day in July 2021, two years and 21 days after Andrew was killed. Students built the garden in his memory. There are dozens of little stones with messages: “Miss you my G.” “Love you bro.” “Fly high Andrew.”
“It’s going to pour,” Attilio says. Thunder cracks.
Every day, Diana and Attilio relive the day their son died. Diana can still see the tracking app on her phone showing Andrew’s thumbnail motionless in the middle of Hempstead Turnpike. Attilio, first to the scene, hears the cop refusing to answer his question:
Is he alive?
Just answer my question. Is he alive?
They’re still working on him.
At the hospital they see the vertical arms of the worker pumping up and down on their son’s chest and for a moment feel a shard of hope, and then later they see his body under the white sheet. First there was shock. Then deep, dark sadness. “I was like, holy shit,” Attilio says. “My son is no longer here.”
Every night, Diana enters his room. She doesn’t touch anything. Everything is exactly as he’d had it. The white Titleist visor over the bedpost. Captain America’s stuffed head behind an orange and blue pillow. Above the bed a canvas painted with an orange ball falling into a net. Diana still can’t comprehend the injustice of her boy’s death. No one was held accountable. Not the driver, who never apologized. Not the DOT, which exaggerates its progress. Not the cops, who couldn’t even get right the address where he was killed. She asked the Nassau County Police Department to correct the error but the department would not. That little respect, she says, for her son.
“People don’t feel bad for the deceased,” she says. Talking about the driver, she says, “They go, ‘Hey, he’s young. He has to live with this.’ Well, I have to live with this. I have to live with the fact that Andrew isn’t here, every day, every minute.” She spent Mother’s Day in 2022 at his grave.
“For God’s sake, let’s look at Andrew here, the person who is not here. The life that he could have had, the value of what he could have been in his years to come,” she says. “But he never had a chance.”
The summer Andrew was killed, his friends stopped riding their bikes. They’d still hang out, but their bikes reminded them of Andrew and it was too painful. Andrew’s brother, Angelo, now 18, stopped riding his bike, too, even though he saved up the money to buy it himself. And Lucia, Andrew’s little sister, now 6, has finally started talking to a counselor about her brother’s death. She doesn’t cry. She just gets mad and doesn’t know why. She was 4 when he was killed.
We leave the garden and walk to Attilio’s red Toyota Forerunner. There’s one other thing Diana wants me to see before it pours, something she hasn’t been able to bring herself to see since she lost her son: the spot where he was killed. Attilio drives by the intersection every morning when he leaves for work and every night when he returns. He can’t figure it out. How did it happen? Maybe the sun blinded the driver; he was headed west, and it was afternoon. But, no, police said the driver was not blinded. Maybe, then, a tractor-trailer was in the turn lane and Andrew couldn’t see the traffic on the far side. “But I’ve done that thousands of times,” he says, “and I can see.”
We reach the Target parking lot and Diana stays in the Forerunner with her seat belt buckled, and Attilio and I get out and walk to the intersection. The road is eight lanes wide. Cars are blasting west and east and east and west at such a volume and speed they howl. Attilio watches the cars. They move like one big animal. Every day in our country, this animal kills people. You won’t often hear about it on the news because it’s old news. We decided that long ago when the combustion engine became king and everything in its path was made subservient, when we asked our streets to accommodate higher speeds and more volume, and we allowed ourselves, with some coaxing from the automobile industry and positive feedback from our economy, to forget what we traded. What we traded were lives. More than 306,000 people not in cars have been killed by people in cars just since 1975, when the federal government began counting. But who, really, is counting? Counting the dead forces a question in our heads: Why are our streets so violent? We know why. The thing is we don’t want to slow down. Instead, we impugn the dead and the wounded and tell ourselves they should have been more careful. Jaywalkers. Kids on bikes. Watch out.
Attilio doesn’t think he’ll ever learn exactly what happened the day his boy was killed, but he won’t stop searching for the answer. Inertia is too painful. “I was the last one to speak to him and the first one to find out what happened,” he says. “Not a good feeling.” The sky behind Attilio is black. Lightning flashes and thunder cracks. It is going to pour, so we turn our backs on the monster that killed his boy and walk to the big red SUV where Diana is waiting, seat belt buckled.
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