Distracted killer of an 8-year old OC cyclist walks without a single day in jail

I really don’t want to write about this.

I’ve been putting it off since a pair of noontime emails alerted me to a plea agreement in the case of Anita Sue Cherry, the driver charged in the death of 8-year old Andrew Brumback in January of last year.

AJ, as his family and friends called him, was hit by Cherry’s car as he rode his bike to school in January of 2011. He was riding shortly ahead of his sister when he crossed into the Westminster intersection; Cherry initially claimed he “came out of nowhere,” police later concluded that she had been looking down — at what, they never said — when the impact occurred.

In other words, she broke the most basic rule of driver by failing to maintain awareness of what was in the road directly in front of her.

And that single moment of distraction took the life of an innocent boy.

Fortunately, his sister did not see the collision, though what she did see afterward must have been almost as devastating.

It certainly was for the owner of the house in front where he died; you can still see the ghost bike and roadside memorial that sprang up afterwards in the Google Street view photo. And I’m told the Westminster Little League players will wear his initials on a patch this season.

Cherry, who stayed at the scene, was reportedly distraught at taking AJ’s life.

Maybe that’s why the D.A. seems to have been so lenient in this case, offering her a plea deal without a single day behind bars.

She had been charged with a single misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, with a maximum sentence of one year in jail; instead, she pled guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving.

With a limp wrist slap sentence of three years informal probation and 300 hours of community service.

Frankly, I don’t know what to think.

Sending her to jail won’t bring AJ back. And it won’t ease the pain of his family, as shown by the witness statements quoted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

At the sentencing today, Brumback’s mother and brother gave victim impact statements to the court. His mother Debbie said, in part, “The loss of AJ has severely wounded our family and deeply injured a community of adults and children who knew him as a friend. I have had a year to put this letter together and am still at a loss for words. How do I continue to move each day without my little boy? My daughter Anna still will not open up and talk about the incident. She was blaming herself for a long time and is longing for her brother and best friend. My son Aaron won’t admit to new friends that he even had a brother because he would have to explain what happened. My husband Bill misses his ‘little buddy’ that used to watch all sports events with him. At school, AJ’s friends tell me how much they miss him. His best friend, Ryan, has been in therapy and hurts to find a friend to play with and share his secrets with. He misses the love of his friend. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my little AJ.”

If Cherry has any conscience whatsoever, having to wake up every morning with the weight of AJ’s death on her shoulders is a far greater penalty than any jail sentence could have been.

On the other hand, letting her walk feels like a failure of the judicial system.

It’s a perfect example of why children and cyclists and pedestrians continue to die on our streets, when the judicial system refuses to hold drivers accountable for their actions or the lives they take.

Maybe this was a fair outcome.

Maybe not. It certainly doesn’t seem like it to me.

I’ve been angry and depressed all day since I got the news. And more committed than ever to support Safe Routes to School.

Because eight-year olds shouldn’t die on their way to class.

And AJ deserved better.

13 comments

  1. TQ says:

    Anita Sue Cherry walks? If only. But no, she’s not walking, or biking, or riding the bus, because there was no action taken to suspend or revoke her driver’s license, and according to the unapologetic OCDA’s office, there won’t be, despite her history of incompetent driving.

    According to a friend of the family, AJ’s loss isn’t merely a benign void; it’s created a vacuum that continues to suck joy out of a family that, as a whole, was once sparkling and bright and vivacious.

    The community hasn’t forgotten AJ either. Last month his school held a memorial car wash & pancake breakfast as a fundraiser in his name.

    AJ’s ghost bike, incidentally, had been removed, and was almost immediately replaced.

  2. Biker395 says:

    “police later concluded that she had been looking down — at what, they never said — when the impact occurred”

    Why the silence? Yes, nothing will bring the victim back, but it matters a great deal to me as to *what* she was looking down at and why. Doesn’t that go to the issue of whether she was negligent, grossly negligent, or reckless?

    If it were what I suspect (a smartphone), I’d call it nothing less than reckless. It would be a simple matter to subpoena her phone records and get some insight on what she might have been doing when AJ was struck.

    My condolences to AJ’s family and friends.

    • bikinginla says:

      I agree, what she was looking at does matter. It’s one thing if she looked down momentarily to change the radio station or check her GPS — even though both should be done when stopped. But it seems like quite another if she was using her smartphone or digging through papers on the seat next to her, both of which I see on a daily basis.

      The problem is that American drivers have lost the sense that they’re operating big, dangerous machines that have the potential to kill with the slightest inattention or distraction. This country needs a massive campaign to return that fear to everyone who gets behind the wheel.

  3. balayeur says:

    Tears were welling up when I read his Mom’s victim impact statement. My heart goes out to his family and its so sad that a young boy’s life was taken from him from a distracted driver. I hope that I will never have to experience this with any of my kids.

  4. Frank Peters says:

    This is heartbreaking on so many levels, for the family and the loss of their son, his friends and schoolmates, too. But the greater sadness for me is that this story will repeat so many more times just this year alone because as a society we accept the slaughter on our roadways. Prosecutors shrug off this devastating tragedy with a “single misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter” which makes me wonder what kind of a society we have become…

  5. Darius says:

    I disagree – what she was looking at DOES NOT matter. what matters is the loss of AJ, just think about that. Something has to be done to wake up the judicial system to the gravity of this stupid decision, how could any judge and DA in their right mind do this? We need an “AJ’s law” specifically punishing reckless drivers that hit bicyclists, and we need to make sure the public servants making these decisions are replaced.

  6. DJwheels says:

    I just want to draw a comparison to another case from LA County where a cyclist was killed at a crosswalk and similar charges were filed.

    NAIRA MARGARYAN – 0GN01832 – Glendale (Victim: Gerardo Ramos)

    She entered no contest to vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. Her sentence was for only 180 hours of community service and restitution to the family, which is arguably more lenient than Ms. Cherry’s sentence.

    So, it looks like the plea bargain in the OC, although still light in my opinion, was at least more strict than the Margaryan plea bargain.

    I’m pretty sure the fact that the victim was a little boy carried some importance with the Judge and DA.

  7. Joe B says:

    I see these articles about drivers getting off with minor punishment over and over, and every time I think, “We’re missing the point.”

    Cherry did what millions of people do every day — she drove distracted. The fact that it was she who killed a little boy instead of some other distracted driver is entirely a matter of luck: she’s getting punished because she was unlucky, and millions of other drivers (who, in my mind, are just as guilty) are getting away with it because they were lucky.

    Punishing only unlucky distracted drivers isn’t going to change a thing. We need to punish ALL distracted drivers. We need a MASSIVE campaign to stop distracted driving. We need PSA’s, we need cops with binoculars lurking at intersections, we need to suspend drivers’ licenses, we need to ban in-dash computer systems that distract the driver, we need to reverse the cultural trend that says that it’s okay to do other stuff while you’re driving.

    And we need to punish distracted drivers BEFORE they kill little boys, not after.

    • bikinginla says:

      You’re right, of course. The biggest change is we need our elected leaders to take distraction seriously — don’t forget that our governor also vetoed a law that would have increased penalties for drivers who currently ignore the state’s hands-free law.

      And we’ve got to stop motor vehicle manufacturers from building more and more distractions into the dashboards of their cars and SUVs. As well as encouraging unsafe driving through their own advertisements.

      • Darius says:

        This is a good point, but just like a business the bigger the problem you’re tackling the more difficult. If the focus can be only on a small subset of the offenders with a case that can easily make sense to most people (killing a child as opposed to being distracted) the chances of doing something can improve greatly.

        Regardless of police – you’d be surprised as to the number of cops I see driving while talking on their cell phones.

    • Wes says:

      Honestly, I don’t think any level of enforcement is going to address this problem. Our best bet is to invest in technology to avoid collisions and then require manufacturers to utilize it in new vehicles. Anything we can do to lower traffic speeds – At 20mph almost all peds/cyclists survive collisions w/ autos – and build “complete streets” would also help, but both these will likely take more time.

  8. Jim Lucas says:

    I took the liberty of posting this on FB under the heading of “How little a child’s life is worth, and a story of forgiveness.” I believe that the comments here have raised very valid points, I hope that those who read it and the comments will be more careful with their multi-ton killing machines, as I strive to get our officials to make our streets safer for bicyclists.

  9. Opus the Poet says:

    I just posted a metric buttload of links to Randolph Ang’s sentencing yesterday when I read this this morning, and his sentence was much worse for killing a pedestrian with a bicycle than this woman’s for killing a pedestrian with a WMD used as transportation. Ang has to report to a probation officer in formal probation rather than the “informal” probation this woman got, and Ang has to fork over more than $15K in restitution which this driver won’t have to fork over.

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