Armstrong: Ride of Silence to honor riders killed or injured by motorists

FJEN18C
Jamal Morris, the victim of a fatal hit-and-run in West Philadelphia.

IF LOSING a child is the worst kind of pain, then I can't imagine the kind of gut-wrenching anguish Channabel Latham-Morris will be in Wednesday as she returns to the city where her beloved son, Jamal Morris, died.

The 27-year-old mechanical engineer with the bright smile and promising future was fatally injured April 18 in a hit-and-run accident while cycling in the wee hours near 45th and Market Streets. Morris, a 2011 graduate of Drexel University, was an avid cyclist, which is why Latham-Morris is scheduled to make the trek from Warwick, N.Y., to Philly.

She will light a memorial candle at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's annual Ride of Silence, an eight-mile trek that leaves from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Wednesday night, beginning at 6:45. Morris is among 10 cyclists from the region killed by motor vehicles since last year's commemoration. Bikers in Wednesday's demonstration will have with them several "ghost bicycles," white, pared-down two-wheelers in honor of the deceased cyclists. Similarly appointed cycles are sometimes left at the scene of crashes in memoriam to fallen riders such as Morris.

I can't imagine what will be going through her head as she hears her son's name announced, and listens as the circumstances surrounding his tragic accident are read aloud. Morris suffered massive head trauma in the collision, and was taken off life support a few days later. In Latham-Morris' position, I would have a hard time maintaining my composure. But I suspect she will summon the strength, because in Morris' tragic death, Latham-Morris has found a renewed purpose for living.

"At 27 years old, you look forward to weddings and grandchildren and all that," she told me Saturday. "And some senseless person knocked him off his bike or hit him, however this accident happened ... By the time he got to the hospital, it was too late for any survival.

"So my goal right now is to fight for my son, and to fight so that what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else," Latham-Morris explained. "And if there are measures that can be taken to prevent it, then we are going all in to make it happen."

In addition to speaking to participants at this year's Ride of Silence, Latham-Morris plans to accompany members of the Bicycle Coalition as they make the rounds in Harrisburg, lobbying in support of several bills that they believe would help make the streets of Philadelphia safer for bikers. One of them is House Bill 950, which would extend funding for red-light cameras in certain areas.

"We have explained to Channabel that there is no way of knowing whether these [proposed] laws could have saved Jamal, but they are proven to slow down traffic, making streets safer," wrote Randy LoBasso, Bicycle Coalition spokesman, in an email.

You've got to admire Latham-Morris, who told me she planned to drive her husband and stepdaughter to Harrisburg on Wednesday and then back to Philadelphia. But then again, grief has a way of making possible things you didn't even know you had in you.

Morris was Latham-Morris' heart. Her only son. Born six weeks prematurely, a fighter from the beginning. He was reared in Queens, in New York City, before moving upstate. His mother made sure he had piano lessons, attended church regularly, and traveled to countries such as Japan and Australia. At Drexel, he became an avid cyclist.

Morris, who graduated from college in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, worked as a piping designer for Amec Foster Wheeler, an international engineering and project-management firm. His last address was at 53rd Street and Market.

Perhaps he was headed home when he was fatally struck. We may never know what happened. No arrests have been made. There are no leads. (Police are asking anyone with information on the incident to contact the Accident Investigation District at 215-685-3180.)

Latham-Morris thinks a red-light camera at the intersection where Morris was struck might have at least provided authorities with information about what happened to her son.

That's the least a grieving mother can ask for.

@JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

armstrj@phillynews.com