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Punishment Doesn’t Fit The Tragedy

What price do you put on a boy’s life?

About 250 bucks if his name is Cooper Jones.

That’s the puny penalty for running 13-year-old Cooper down as he legally pedaled his racing bike in broad daylight on a wide paved road.

The Washington State Patrol concluded its three-month investigation last week citing driver Glenna Ward, 66, with second-degree negligent driving.

The infraction carries a $250 fine plus statutory costs.

One boy. That’ll be $250 bucks, ma’am. Next case.

If I sound bitter it’s because I am. Bitter and mad as hell. Cooper, you see, was not a faceless name in the newspaper. Cooper Jones was my neighbor and my friend and he died needlessly.

He lived in the house behind mine. I’ve watched him grow from a funny little kid who played on our swing set to the extraordinary young man who helped me rake leaves.

How many 10-year-olds do you know who visit a military recruiter?

Cooper did because he dreamed of someday flying jets. The recruiter dutifully told him what the requirements were. Cooper copied them down carefully on a list that is still in the bedroom drawer where he left it.

In penciled, big block letters he wrote: “SAT score of 1,200, Eagle Scout, sports …”

One by one, Cooper attacked each goal. He earned exceptional grades and was one summer away from becoming an Eagle. His final project was to be on bicycle helmet safety.

On Sunday his heartsick mom, Martha, showed me Cooper’s room. The blue-gray walls are covered with posters of military aircraft. Models of fighter planes and submarines line black shelves.

I sat with Martha in the dining room. She pointed to the chair that is now empty at every meal.

She did a good job of masking a grief intense beyond words. “We still cry every day,” she said. “We’ll never get over this.”

Patrol investigators did their best. They wanted real justice for Cooper. But under Washington’s misguided traffic code the evidence didn’t support criminal prosecution.

For there to have been a crime, Ward would have had to be driving drunk or drugged or in some obviously crazed manner. She was none of those things as she headed west on state Highway 904 early in the evening of June 24.

The weather was clear. Visibility was unobstructed to 1,000 feet. Up ahead, in garish bright clothing, Cooper tried to better his time as part of the Baddlands Cycling Club.

How could anyone not have seen him?

Ward didn’t. Coming from behind, she barreled her tank of a Cadillac into Cooper. The impact sent him head-first into Ward’s windshield. It took the boy about a week to die.

Yep, no crime there.

“Nothing would be served by putting this woman in prison,” said Cooper’s dad, David. “But I’m just as sure a $250 fine doesn’t serve any purpose, either.”

Common sense suggests that drivers whose negligence causes a death would at least have their license yanked five years.

Calling Cooper’s death an outrage, Rep. Larry Sheahan, R-Rosalia, vowed to make tougher driving penalties a “top priority.”

Tough laws won’t bring back my friend, Cooper. But knowing that his death triggered a spark of sanity will make his memory a little less painful to bear.

, DataTimes