Cooper Jones was a boy on a bicycle. He was also an assertive young man who got things done.
The latter image inspired parents David and Martha Jones to make their son’s death mean something. The former inspired lawmakers to help them.
“We’re doers. We don’t sit back and wait for things to happen,” said Martha Jones, a Spokane radiology technician who works at Deaconess and Sacred Heart medical centers. “Cooper was like that, too.”
On a crisp, clear day last summer, Cooper, a 13-year-old bicyclist who wanted to compete in the Olympics, was struck by a car while competing in a time trial on a flat, wide road near Cheney. He died a week later.
Late Thursday night, the Senate passed a bill that would force some drivers responsible for serious accidents to retake their driver’s license test. It also provides money for bicycle safety education, and adds questions to the driving test about bicyclists on roadways.
The bill has already passed the House and is expected to be signed by the governor.
For the Jones family, the road from loss to law was seven months of writing letters, attending meetings, sending e-mail, visiting high schools and crossing the state to lobby legislators. It was a yo-yo of encouraging committee votes and demoralizing stalled floor action. It was a see-saw of harried activity sprinkled with long idle hours.
This week, as the push for The Cooper Jones Act wound to a close, the Joneses politely - but firmly - rejected any notion that what they had done was healing, soothing, or even, for that matter, emotionally healthy.
They were pleased by their victory, but it mostly left them weary.
“I believe in what we’ve done and what we’re doing, but this still does nothing for me,” Martha Jones said.
David Jones, a pharmacist, struggled to explain.
“We talk about this rationally, and for other people it is rational,” he said, his voice pinched and shaking. “But how can I celebrate? We’re doing this because our son is dead. His room is empty, and our lives are going to be different forever.”
The 65-year-old driver who hit the boy never saw him until he hit her windshield. She was fined $250. When police later tried to halt bicycle road racing out of safety fears, the Joneses could take no more.
“It was kind of the response that women must feel when they’re raped and then asked, ‘What were you doing there?’ implying it was her fault,” David Jones said. “This was in no way Cooper’s fault.”
The Joneses believed their story could spark change. And they knew their son - a Boy Scout, a gifted student and violinist, and a motivated athlete who visited a military recruiter at age 10 - would want that.
“It’s one thing to say ‘97 people were killed in accidents last year,”’ said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, one of several lawmakers who shepherded the bill. “It’s another thing to say ‘Cooper Jones was killed.”’
The couple was angry, but didn’t believe the driver deserved jail time. After visiting legislators, the couple came up with a mantra: “You cause the accident, you retake the test.” They also suggested a tax on the sale of bicycles to pay for education. They weren’t prepared for the battle.
“We were told, ‘Don’t even come and ask for anything that would require money unless you bring the money with you, ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen,”’ David Jones said.
Reps. Duane Sommers and Brad Benson, both Republicans from Spokane, tried unsuccessfully to convince fellow anti-tax conservatives that the cause was worthy. The bill passed the House with the tax stripped out. A handful of Senate Republicans kept the bill from coming to the floor for a vote.
The ups and downs were excruciating.
“I thought about it all the time,” David Jones said. “Every day I thought, is there something else I could have done today?”
Sen. Brown dogged lawmakers and, eventually, Republican Sen. Jim West, an ex-Boy Scout, found a less controversial source for the money.
Today, the Joneses will try to forget the battle. They leave with their daughter for a vacation to Mexico to go camping and kayaking. It will be their first trip without their son.
“It’s going to be difficult to leave,” Martha Jones said. “But now we need to focus on something else.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO The bill would force some drivers responsible for serious accidents to retake their drivers license test. It also provides money for bicycle safety education, and adds questions to the drivers test about bicyclists on roadways.