2021 ABQ Walking Deaths #2: Ms. Graham

About 6:30 p.m. on January 16, 2021, 44-year-old Ms. Patches Graham was killed perhaps trying to cross Central Ave. near California Street. Motorcyclist Virgil Bunn struck Ms. Graham in the right westbound lane of Central, later reporting to investigators that, as the police supplemental report states, “he did not have time to ‘respond’ (Mr. Bun’s word) so he hit her.” Rushed to UNMH, Ms. Graham died from her injuries a few hours later.

“Mother Road” U.S. Rt. 66 (Central Avenue) westbound near California St.

John Steinbeck referred to new U.S. Highway 66 as “The Mother Road” in 1939’s The Grapes of Wrath. The highway made famous in books, movies, and song, has long been symbol of things “America.” Things like “freedom” and “road trip” and “wide open spaces.” Today, and for years now, the stretch of Mother Road through the east side of Albuquerque has unfortunately also been more than a mere symbol of many unsolved American problems, including homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, criminal justice, and mental illness.

East Central today is a violent melding of symbols and reality. past and present: We’ve created a thriving nexus of many problems we can’t seem to solve through which folks still have the “freedom” to drive. One result of this is that periodically, more often than anywhere in town, folks trying to walk along/across The Mother Road get killed. Ms. Patches Graham, also known as Renee C. Chávez, was one of these folks.

Ms. Graham’s listed address was Hopeworks, a homeless service provider located just north of downtown. She had a honestly impressive number of run-ins with authorities over many years, and even a quick internet search reveals that Ms. Graham had what might be called a “troubled life.” In a society better able to address problems such as homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, criminal justice, and mental illness, Ms. Graham might have stood a chance in terms of turning things around and living a life that didn’t end at 44 via a motorcyclist on The Mother Road. But this is America.

And motorcyclist Virgil Bunn, having been injured in the crash both in striking Ms. Graham as well as a vehicle in the other westbound lane (that driver just keep going and has never been located), is hopefully not too mentally, or physically, scarred by the traumatic experience.

One is strongly tempted to take the case of Ms. Graham and Mr. Bunn as pretext to calls for sweeping changes to solve the seemingly unsolvable problems the incident touches upon, perhaps including the inherent incompatibility of mixing “freedom” to drive with homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, criminal justice, and mental illness. But instead, we’ll close with focus on the victims, both of them, and give a thought or two to them and their families. Perhaps you might as well.

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