(Greg Wahl-Stephens, for The Columbian)
(Special to The Columbian)
Dozens of people blocked the intersection of 27th and Main streets in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday evening to both celebrate the life of Benjamin Fulwiler, 11, and protest against a C-Tran route where he was fatally injured April 28 when his bicycle collided with a bus.
Participants in the candlelight vigil, organized by the boy's family and friends, held a banner depicting a photograph of the Pacific Middle School sixth-grader and the words, "Happy 12th Birthday, Benjamin." Tuesday marked his birthday.
Just as the group assembled across 27th, southbound Bus 37 slowed on Main in anticipation of its usual left turn onto 27th. The driver, seeing the demonstrators in the intersection, continued on Main instead. The bus had made that left turn onto 27th when the collision that killed Benjamin occurred.
"We are taking back 27th Street from C-Tran," shouted Jennie Stanavech, a close friend to Benjamin's mother, Jennifer Kanna. "No more left turns. It's dangerous."
At the same time, Benjamin's aunt, Stephanie Kanna, complained to the C-Tran Board of Directors at their meeting Tuesday evening that Route 37 is unsafe.
The C-Tran board did not discuss the route at length during the meeting, but did express condolences to Kanna and her family. The agency reviews routes in the case of fatal accidents.
The route had changed in January to include that left turn onto 27th. Instead of going straight on Main and stopping at the intersection of Main and 25th, the bus turned on 27th and continued on Broadway, where it stopped at 25th. The change was meant to protect pedestrians at that intersection of 25th and Main, C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson has said.
Benjamin's father, Dustin Fulwiler, said he was angry that C-Tran has blamed the accident on his son. C-Tran released video it said showed that Benjamin struck the bus midpoint rather than the other way around, but Fulwiler said he believes the bus hit Benjamin.
"There's no way he could have slammed into the bus," Fulwiler said. "Out of all the kids, he was so cautious."
Vancouver police continue to investigate the cause of the collision, said spokeswoman Kim Kapp.
The bus driver, Deborah Knox, 59, remains on paid administrative leave pending police and C-Tran investigations.
Benjamin's family has hired Vancouver attorney Jim Sellers to do a separate investigation, Fulwiler said.
Tuesday's vigil was a mixture of mourning for Benjamin's death, celebration of his life and anger at C-Tran.
"I don't want him to be forgotten," his mother said. "It's a neighborhood. I never imagined he wasn't safe."
Organizers made a giant birthday card with signatures and written expressions of grief and love from Benjamin's family and friends and served up cake decorated with some of Benjamin's favorite quotes.
Benjamin's sister, Brooklyn Newcomb, took the quotes from Benjamin's "idea book," a sketchbook he filled with patterns, numbers and quotes. Some of the quotes were prophetic, such as one by Joseph L. Mankiewicz: The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, but life doesn't.
In honor of Benjamin's love of music, Brooklyn's boyfriend, Benjamin Hamilton, played "Happy Birthday" on his violin. The 11-year-old Benjamin played the viola and the piano.
"I gave him a music lesson once or twice," Hamilton said.
Then, the crowd, numbering more than 50, sang "Happy Birthday."
Stanavech maintains a memorial page for Benjamin.
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