Hit and Run and Hit and Run

Another very short story, which contains a novel nobody really wants to read:

Authorities have upgraded to vehicular homicide one of the charges against Ryan Lisabeth, the motorist accused of hitting three children and killing one of them in northwest Atlanta Friday.

Lisabeth, 28, was arrested on multiple charges, including DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and possession of a controlled substance, according to online Fulton County Jail records. He was denied bond Monday.

His record includes three DUI convictions, a cocaine-related conviction and an open DUI case that he was scheduled to be sentenced for at the time he went before a judge on the latest charges Monday, Channel 2 reported. Further, he was in a treatment facility at the time of Friday’s incident. His attorney declined to comment about his case.

Isaiah Ward, age nine, was killed, while his big brother and a friend of theirs are in critical condition. So let’s all have some compassion for Ward’s family and that of the other boy. And some serious white-hot rage for the justice system, which, it’s Georgia’s judges and whatever prosecutors agreed to plea deals who are truly responsible for Ward’s death. This jackass Lisabeth just got his fifth DUI? And he’s not behind bars? Why are people like this not permanently barred from driving? I can see one DUI costing you a boatload of money and a year or two without a license, but sure, everyone gets a second chance. But a second one? Let’s just get you off the road, for good. If Lisabeth had lost his license permanently, as he should have after the second DUI, Isaiah Ward, his brother and their friend would be in school today.

It’s hard not to argue with Isaiah’s uncle:

Isaiah’s uncle, Freddie Smith, told Channel 2 his first reaction was to inflict pain on Lisabeth.

“I wanted him to suffer,” Smith said, breaking the word into two, hard syllables. “SUF-FER.”

As well he should. But while it’s 100% understandable that Smith would be furious with Lisabeth, our real outrage here needs to point where it belongs: at the justice system that gave him a third, and fourth, and (allegedly) fifth chance at killing someone when driving wasted before he finally managed to pull it off. Now Lisabeth is going to suf-fer disproportionately; but that’s a little too late for the Wards and their friend’s family.

To create an analogous fictional story would be tough, because of course judges and prosecutors are insulated from their misdeeds, and while it might make for good writing to have Diana shaking with impotent rage at the judge who gave our analogue of Lisabeth the fourth chance. The only real way to make it work would be to have the judge themself kill a kid while driving home drunk from some anti-crime fundraiser, but that just reeks of cheese and would be very tough to pull off without falling into sheer triteness.

But let’s look at the end of the story:

The neighborhood where the children were struck, Washington Park, is among the most blighted in Atlanta. It’s just a mile and a half west of the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown. The skyscrapers of midtown are in view. Washington Park, along with the adjacent Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods, have been the focus of numerous revitalization attempts. While there are longtime working-class residents there, the area has become a haven for drug dealing and other crime.

“It’s dangerous out here, really dangerous,” said Anthony Williams, a security guard at Bright Futures a private school on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. “That’s what’s going on out here, ‘the business.’ Everybody’s out here doing all types of drugs.”

On Monday morning, children about Isaiah’s age were playing in the school yard of Kipps Ways Academy, another heavily-gated charter school just a short walk away from the scene of the crash. The boulevard is dotted on both sides with rundown apartment buildings, grimy corner markets and boarded up buildings. A makeshift memorial to Isaiah of candles, stuffed toy animals and signs punctuates the boulevard’s bleakness. Williams said gunshots are a common sound in the neighborhood, and crime is such a concern that his school’s campus is guarded 24-hours a day.

“We had a window get hit the other day,” Williams said, his gun holstered on his hip. “But I know at the end of the day, God has got his arm around us.”

This is just weird, like they needed to fill some column inches or whatever the digital equivalent is. While none of this perspective on Washington Park is false—it is indeed the worst neighborhood close intown—none of it has anything to do with Lisabeth killing Ward. Yes, people from ritzier neighborhoods go there to score; it’s about the only economic activity taking place. But your average purchaser of street drugs is going to make every effort to make complete stops at stop signs, use their turn signals, etc., once they have the drugs in the car. Washington Park didn’t kill Isaiah Ward; the justice system did, by letting Ryan Lisabeth have a fourth chance at a driver’s license. Is this just bad writing, or the need to fill space, or the AJC’s usual effort to avoid even implicitly blaming the power structure for our society’s failures?