Nothing is all that can be done


Last updated 3/19/2024 at 10:38am

To the parents of Trenton Burger: I am so sorry for your loss. No words of mine can mend your wounds. I can’t even imagine the pain you have endured.

Trenton, 15, died after he collided with a minivan while riding an e-bike in Bend. The driver of the van was not cited, it being determined that the driver was not responsible.

There are many ways to imagine how this tragedy might have been averted. Trenton was illegally riding on a sidewalk. Trenton was was not of legal age to be riding an e-bike. Trenton was riding east adjacent to the west-bound lane of traffic. Trenton had a rider on the back of the bike. Trenton was not wearing a helmet. Trenton was unfamiliar with assumptions of drivers and their blind spots.

But we don’t want to blame Trenton for his own death, and certainly not his grieving parents. Since the van driver was not cited after an investigation, that leaves the inanimate object that has no advocates: Trenton’s e-bike.

With much fanfare, local politician Emerson Levy (D) has declared that we all should “bear witness” to the life of Trenton, and she and other legislators should do “sacred things” on the floor of the Oregon statehouse. Thusly, she said unto us, we shalt pass laws.

Despite the fact that similar fatal accidents have occurred in Bend to riders of traditional bikes, and laws or safe practices were already in place that would have saved Trenton’s life had they been obeyed.

Clearly, it was the laws of physics that killed Trenton Burger. But passing laws is what lawmakers do, even if replacing knowledgeable, individual responsibility with state regulation might have unforeseen consequences.

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What’s wrong with passing laws, with a little fanfare by politicians? Because, sometimes, doing wrong things for the right reasons allows us to avoid doing difficult things that involve less political grandstanding and cost more money, but possibly be more effective.

Eliminating conflict between cycles and cars by reducing the need for them to occupy the same space comes to mind. A “Trenton Burger Memorial Bike Corridor” across Bend may save more lives than a “Trenton’s Law” on e-bikes, and might prevent a tragedy like that which befell Trenton Burger and his family.

Trenton’s family is not at fault for pushing the legislation. If in their place, I would do anything to ameliorate the toxic cocktail of remorse and loss that would bleed into every waking moment. Almost any parent would, in the struggle to find significance in the overwhelming pain.

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But the “why” of Trenton’s death does not lie in the absence of laws, despite the offensive wrapping in quasi-religious language of symbolic action by State Representative Emerson Levy. Boys and girls, aged 15 or so, do dangerous things. Suspended as they are between childhood and adulthood, strong enough and smart enough to do things they do not have the wisdom to avoid, some of them make fatal mistakes.

This has been forever true. And the greatest chances are often taken by those who hold the greatest promise, deepening our heartbreak when they fall just short in leaping to the other side of whatever challenge they have decided to risk. The dilemma is that we love those bright daredevils, and those who survive are often those who propel society forward.

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Every parent hopes to their core that their child will not be among the fallen. Almost every parent does what they can to surround their child in a bubble wrap of cautionary words, car keys hidden away, alcohol stashed in high cupboards, curfews, phone trackers, and more.

And yet, because of who they are, some youth will do what they are not supposed to, do what’s prohibited, break the rules, and some will die.



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