Meg Sanders

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Meg Sanders
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Age: 23

Elm Street
Northampton , MA
United States

Margaret Sanders, a Hampshire College graduate and dedicated volunteer to many causes, was killed by an armored truck at around 9 am on September 22, 2005. She was on her way home from a shift at a local women's shelter. The driver, who police said did not see her, was not charged. More than 100 people attended a hastily scheduled memorial service the day of her death. One year later, her ghost bike was replaced with a permanent plaque. She was also honored on the 2006 Ride of Silence.

An article outlines her life and work:

Armored truck kills cyclist at Smith
She was devoted to social justice

By Cristina Silva, Globe Correspondent
September 24, 2005

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in Saturday's City & Region section about a 23-year-old activist who was killed in a traffic accident misidentified the location of Hampshire College. The college is in Amherst.)

A 23-year-old social activist -- who friends said devoted her life to raising awareness of AIDS, domestic violence, and other issues -- was killed this week when an armored truck struck her as she rode her bicycle through Smith College in Northampton, crushing her beneath its wheels, police said.

Margaret ''Meg" Sanders, 23, who volunteered at four different nonprofit organizations and didn't have a driver's license because she preferred an eco-friendly bicycle, was riding home from her night job at a domestic violence shelter when she was struck Thursday, friends said.

''She was just an amazing person, a very bright spirit," said Dorothy Baumann, 50, of Hadley, who befriended Sanders three years ago in a tai chi class. ''It's just a freak thing."

''You knew you could always accomplish anything with Meg," said Court Cline, 42, of Easthampton, volunteer director at AIDS CARE Hampshire County, an advocacy group where Sanders volunteered. ''Nothing was out of reach when she was around."

For the past two years, Sanders participated in the Red Ribbon Ride, a 175-mile bicycle ride across the state that raises money and awareness for AIDS and HIV. This year, she was cocaptain of the AIDS CARE cycling team, helping to garner more than $15,000 in donations, said Andi Genser, director of the ride.

''She was really dedicated to the cause and making a difference in the world," Genser said.

The accident happened as Sanders rode east on Elm Street inside the Smith College campus about 9:08 a.m. Thursday, said Northampton Police Sergeant Andrew Trushaw.

Rafael Sevilla, 25, of Indian Orchard, was driving an armored truck in the same direction on Elm Street when he a made a right turn into a driveway and struck Sanders, catching her beneath the wheels, Trushaw said.

Sanders was pronounced dead on the street, Trushaw said. Police are investigating the incident, and no charges have been filed against Sevilla, an employee of AT Systems Inc., Trushaw said.

''The driver never saw her or anything," he said.

Sanders volunteered for various causes, including animal rights, bicycling concerns, and social justice, Cline said.

She also held three jobs, created ornate art projects of paper sculptures and book binding, and studied tai chi and yoga, he said.

Yet no issue seemed to motivate Sanders as much as AIDS. Her parents both died when Sanders was 9, Cline said, and it wasn't until Sanders was a teenager that she learned the cause of their illness was AIDS.

After the deaths of her parents, Sanders and her two older sisters lived with an aunt in the family's hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., Cline said.

Sanders moved to Massachusetts nearly five years ago to attend Hampshire College in Northampton. She received her bachelor's degree in 2004 with a focus on book art, Cline said.

Sanders rarely talked about her parents' deaths, choosing instead to focus on helping others, Baumann said.

''She once said she chose to process her parents' deaths on her own," Baumann said.

A memorial service sponsored by Critical Mass, a cycling advocacy group Sanders volunteered with, will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. in Pulaski Park on Main Street in Northampton, Cline said.

''She was just an amazing person who tried to help everyone," he said.

''I'm going to miss Meg every day of my life. We all learned so much from her."

Another article further described her commitment to various activist efforts:

AIDS activist dies in biking accident: Meg Sanders, 23, participated in Red Ribbon Ride

Bay Windows - September 29, 2005
Ethan Jacobs

Meg Sanders may have only been 23 years old when she died in a tragic biking accident Sept. 22, but during her short life her passionate activism on a variety of causes, particularly around HIV/AIDS, changed lives around the state. An avid cyclist, Sanders, an East Hampton resident, channeled her passion for riding into a positive force, taking part in the past two Mass Red Ribbon Rides, yearly charity bike treks across the state that raise funds for HIV/AIDS organizations throughout the Commonwealth. Her commitment to the fight against the disease was personal. At just 9 years old Sanders lost both of her parents to AIDS.

"I think people found her, besides being just a great person, I think a lot of people were inspired by her example," said Andi Genser, ride manager for the Mass Red Ribbon Ride. "You live who you are, and I think a lot of people saw that."

During an interview with Bay Windows this spring for an article about the Red Ribbon Ride, Sanders shared her story about how she got involved in HIV/AIDS activism (see "Bicycling For A Cause," May 12, 2005). Growing up in conservative Chattanooga, Tenn., she was kept in the dark about the cause of her parents' deaths, and it was only later in life that she discovered that her father, a closeted gay man, had unknowingly passed the HIV virus on to her mother. She moved up to Massachusetts about five years ago to attend Northampton's Hampshire College, and a year and a half ago she attended an open house for the first Mass Red Ribbon Ride, which marked the beginning of her work as an AIDS activist.

She signed up for the ride, and when it came time to send out her fundraising appeals, she sent letters home to friends, family, and other community members in Chattanooga, explaining that she was raising funds because she had been orphaned by AIDS. She told Bay Windows that while some in the community had been hostile to her father, who they blamed for her mother's death, the response to her fundraising letters was overwhelmingly positive. She would find as many as five letters at a time with fundraising pledges when she checked her mail each day, and she was touched by the response.

"Everyone from Tennessee was so grateful and really praised me for taking this on, and that really surprised me," she told Bay Windows.

At that first open house for the ride she also met Court Cline, volunteer coordinator for AIDS CARE/Hampshire County, an AIDS service organization based in Northampton. Cline said Sanders began volunteering with AIDS CARE as part of their buddies program and was matched as a buddy with a person living with HIV. She also helped organize AIDS CARE's annual Chocolate Dessert Buffet and Silent Auction fundraiser. Cline, who said Sanders became a close friend over the past year and a half, said he was impressed by her commitment to social justice.

"I was blown away by her," said Cline. "She was just such a dynamic young woman who really had such an incredible sense of the connections between HIV and violence and poverty, just everything."

He said the two of them had planned to go down to Washington, D.C. last weekend to protest the Iraq war, and she got involved in a number of other causes. Sanders had spent five years working for Safe Passage, a domestic violence shelter in Northampton, and she was riding home from that job when she was killed.

After one year riding solo in the Mass Red Ribbon Ride she helped form an AIDS CARE/Hampshire County team this past summer. She raised about $2400 for the ride, and her team pulled in more than $15,000. Sanders also helped run training rides for participants leading up to the ride and held a fundraiser, and she did several press interviews to raise the profile of the ride. Genser said Sanders was shy by nature, but she was willing to share her story publicly to help promote the ride.

"I think she understood that her story was so compelling and her commitment was so deep that she was willing to do what it was going to take," said Genser.

Sanders died the morning of Sept. 22 after colliding with an armored truck at around 9 a.m. on Elm Street on the Smith Campus. Northampton police say she was riding on the right side of the truck when it took a turn. She was pulled under the truck's wheels and died at the scene. Northampton Police Officer Robert Powers said no charges are being filed against the driver of the truck.

"We've closed the investigation with the culmination that there was no negligence on the part of the driver of the truck... . It is an unfortunate accident," said Powers.

Critical Mass, a bicycling advocacy group that Sanders volunteered with, is holding a memorial ride Sept. 29 gathering at 5:30 at Pulaski Park in Northampton. Riders will put candles on their bikes and ride from the Smith campus to East Hampton.

On Oct. 2 her family and friends will host a celebration of her life at the Red Barn of Hampshire College at 1 p.m. People are invited to bring photos, memories and food to share.

Cline said he will remember Sanders as much for her compassion as for her activism.

"She was just one of the most giving people I had ever met. She was very genuine in her giving and just able to talk to anyone in a genuine clear way, no hidden agendas or ulterior motives," said Cline. "She was just a very good person in that way. You felt like you could do anything when working with Meg. It felt like anything was possible."

A final article shows the extent of Meg's service but also the tepid police response to the crash:

Bicyclist lived to ride - Police seek more witnesses
Friday, September 23, 2005

NORTHAMPTON - Margaret 'Meg' Sanders, the young cyclist struck and killed Thursday in Northampton, didn't own a car. She didn't have a driver's license.
For Sanders, the bicycle was far more than a pastime, friends say.

'The bike was everything to her, everything,' Dorothy Baumann of Hadley. 'Her transportation. Her fun. Her life.'

Sanders, 23, died immediately after colliding just after 9 a.m. Thursday with an armored truck on Elm Street in Northampton, near a driveway at Smith College across from St. Mary's Church.

Sanders, who lived at 3 Hill Ave., Easthampton, was heading toward the downtown when the truck, which was traveling in the same direction, made a right turn into the college.

Details of the accident are under investigation and no criminal charges have been filed against the driver, Rafael Sevilla, 25, of Indian Orchard. Sgt. Andrew Trushaw of the Northampton police said investigators are looking for more witnesses before deciding whether Sevilla should be charged. 'There's got to be more people (who saw the accident). I mean, that road was packed,' Trushaw said.

Sevilla was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital for emotional trauma. In the emergency room he asked police, 'How bad is the person hurt?' unaware Sanders
had died, Trushaw said. 'He was very, very visibly shaken.'

Friends gathered quickly at the place where Sanders died, consoling one another. Two of them marveled today over the speed of the response. By 5 p.m. Thursday, roughly 100 of Sanders' friends had turned out at First Churches in Northampton for an informal memorial service.

'It was a real tribute to her that on the day she died, people from all parts of her life showed up,' said Janet Aalfs of Northampton, with whom Sanders studied tai chi. 'People couldn't comprehend that she wasn't here any more.'

'She was kind of an angel, she really was. She was always doing kind, beautiful things for people,' Aalfs said today. She and other friends recalled Sanders, a small woman with a shock of red hair, as a bright spirit who set an example of service to others.

Both Sanders' parents died of AIDS in the early 1990s in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she was later raised by an aunt. She attended Hampshire College and graduated in 2004.

The Gazette interviewed Sanders in July 2004, as she was training for a 225-mile, three-day bike ride across Massachusetts seeking to raise money and awareness about HIV and AIDS. As a veteran of the Massachusetts Red Ribbon Ride, the AIDS fundraiser, she had been tapped as a ride leader. She was helping to train for the next ride. Sanders had done volunteer work for AIDS Care Hampshire County.

Over the years, as part of making peace with the pain of her parents' deaths, Sanders volunteered at several organizations that serve people with the disease. Erica Eynos of Northampton, a close friend, remembers Sanders as 'an incredible person with an incredible vitality ... I don't think words can sum up the totality of who she was.'

Sanders studied book arts at Hampshire and did her final project on book burning.

She gave Eynos a book she wrote and bound for a birthday. Inside, she wrote: 'This book reminds us that death is just another animal and that life should be just as wild,' Eynos said.

Sanders worked at Wide Awake Garage bookbindery at One Cottage Street in Easthampton.

Eynos said she believes Sanders had just ended a shift working at the women's shelter in Northampton and was probably cycling home when she was killed.

Eynos said Sanders had trained with Circus Amok, a socially conscious circus based in New York City. Sanders worked as a stage manager, but had learned how to walk on stilts and eat fire.

Sanders had served since 2000 on the relief staff at Safe Passage, answering the hotline and helping with crisis intervention at the Northampton service agency for survivors of domestic violence, said counselor Jackie Torres.

'I probably was the last person who spoke with her yesterday,' Torres said, recalling a brief conversation about troubles with the phone system. 'We were laughing.'

'It is frustrating that someone who was so young, with so much energy, so involved in the community, had to leave like that,' Torres said. 'It is very sad.'

Sanders was also a longtime cyclist and used her bike or public transportation to get around. Baumann, Sanders' friend from Hadley, said the young woman was passionate about cycling - and understood its hazards.

'She commuted everywhere on that bike, day and night, all year long,' Baumann said. Both women rode small racing bikes designed for children or young adults. 'She and I had this joke about being on the midget patrol.'

Though physically small, Sanders is being remembered by friends for her large presence in their lives.

Aalfs recalled Sanders dressing up for one Halloween party as a bug on stilts. She helped create a Chinese dragon for a children's party.

'She just was a very beautiful person and an incredible mover,' said Aalfs. 'I learned from her, watching her just be herself. She just seemed really happy when she was moving. She made me happy watching her.'

Deborah Hanley, who directed the after-school program at Amherst's Common School, where Sanders worked, remembers her as a 'incredibly creative, caring human being.'

'Her life was about trying to give back to other people,' said Hanley, who knew Sanders for nearly five years.

Besides being an after-school worker and volunteering for community organizations, Sanders practiced yoga and trained in tai chi with the Valley Women's Martial Arts in Easthampton.

She had been involved in a campaign to stop the building of a new women's jail in Chicopee.

Baumann said people at the scene who claimed to have witnessed the accident said both the cyclist and the truck where moving down the hill on Elm Street. They said Sanders was riding in the street, Baumann said. 'He may well have never even seen her,' she said. 'It just happened.'

'You know you're still taking a risk,' Baumann added. 'People do not take bicycles seriously in this country. You're thrown in the box as a kid or a nut. That's really sad.'

Aalfs said she believes Sanders would likely not blame the man in the vehicle that struck her. 'Meg would immediately forgive the driver of this armored truck,
who is probably suffering,' she said.

Hampshire College President Ralph J. Hexter said a memorial service will be held on campus for Sanders. 'Meg was a remarkable young woman who was held in the highest esteem by all who knew and worked with her as a Hampshire student,' Hexter said.

In the wake of the incident, Mass Bike Pioneer Valley called for the city of Northampton to institute changes that would prevent further tragedies from occurring.

More information about Meg Sanders can be found here.