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Podcast: Crash survivor and safety advocate Sarah Risser

Sarah Risser with the family of Jason Ruhmshottel at a ghost bike installation earlier this month. (Jonathan Maus / BikePortland)

Imagine losing someone you love deeply in a traffic crash. Now imagine being seated next to them when it happened. That’s the tragic reality Portland road safety advocate Sarah Risser experienced in January 2019.

I talked to Risser this week to learn more about the work she’s doing to help families deal with grief and to help our community acknowledge the crushing toll of traffic deaths. But before I asked Risser anything else, I asked her to share the story of her son 18-year-old Henry Zietlow, who was driving their car on a snowy road when “a clearly negligent and reckless” driver coming the opposite direction crossed the centerline and slammed into them.

“It was just heartbreaking,” Risser recalled. “He was a beautiful beautiful young man. Just coming into his own.”

That crash radicalized Risser. “It didn’t have to happen. It was preventable,” she shared with me. And in a moving essay she published last fall, Risser wrote, “Once I began to see how much we’ve sacrificed to our auto-centric lifestyle, I couldn’t unsee it.”

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