Memorializing Ronacin Tjhung: How Systemic Transportation Issues Can Lead to Tragedy

by Kelsey Hamlin

A crowd of somber faces collected at the corner of Othello Station Saturday evening in memory of Ronacin Tjhung a Filipino man struck by a car while riding his bike on Graham Street to his second job.

Ronacin was a hard working father of five children, all living in the Philippines.

He sent most of the money he earned from his 60 hour work weeks back to support them.

The children are also without a mother as she died in a typhoon years earlier.

However, his sister, Jessica Bermudez lives in Seattle’s South End.

“We’re really amazed and awed by the number of people,” Jessica said, scanning around to see approximately 50 faces at the gathering. “I know my brother is looking down on us with a big grin on his face.”

Here and there people held large printed posters of Ronacin, as well as small card-sized ones that fit in between a bike’s spokes. Jessica explained that the photo was taken when Ronacin went to his first buffet in America. It’s a candid shot of a thrilled young man in the middle of devouring his fourth plate of grub.

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A young woman holds a photo of Ronacin Tjhung at the memorial. (Photo: Lisa Hagen Glynn)

“It’s a picture I chose,” Jessica said, “because…it makes me smile; it makes me laugh.”

She called her brother a “happy-go-lucky kind of guy,” who also tended to keep to himself. But one trait that stood out about Ronacin was his caring nature toward others. Whenever Jessica was stressed, he would frequently tell her that she needed to take things one step at a time, and relax.

The owner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Way McDonald’s arrived to say Ronacin was “one of these beacons of light,” even though he had only worked at the fast food chain for a few months.

The restaurant was where Ronacin came from on that fateful day, racing home to quickly change clothes before heading out again to bike his way to the University of Washington for a cooking job. He was hit by a car before he ever got home to change.

Graham Street is a notorious South End arterial. It has steep hills, very narrow car lanes, and tons of spots where cars need to turn off but end up performing risky maneuvers to do so.

There are no stop signs throughout.

What’s more: Even though the South End was promised bike lanes back in 2014, the only one to date is on Rainier Ave S. Even the “accessible Mt. Baker project” has been delayed due to design issues. But the reports state that an MLK bike lane is supposed to be completed this year.

Phyllis Porter works with  Rainier Valley Greenways, a community organization that advocates for street safety, and attended the memorial.

With the help and blessing of the Ronacin’s family, the memorial was in part a recognition of the need for safer transportation in the South End, something Phyllis emphasized.

“We are always concerned that something like this will happen,” she said. “It never gets easy.”

Phyllis passionately spoke about the fact that not everyone can afford a car, and so addressing the South End’s transportation as if it’s mostly car-oriented is dangerous.

“Transportation affects everyone,” she said, “as soon as your foot hits the pavement.”

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Mourners march their bikes near the site of  where Ronocin was hit. (Photo: Lisa Hagen Glynn)

In fact, Phyllis herself was almost hit by a car on Rainier Avenue months ago. She wants people to understand that transportation is a vital part of living. As soon as someone walks outside, there’s a possibility they might not get home.

“It just makes me want to do more,” she said. “They act like transportation isn’t a need, and it is.

Safety infrastructure is not gentrification, it is an everyday necessity.”

In fact, as people were walking from Othello Station to the spot of the crash, there were moments when the crosswalk “go” signs lasted only three or five seconds on intersections four lanes wide per road. In other spots, the sidewalk was only barely wide enough for one person to walk on.

Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who represents South Seattle, was also in attendance.

“Sometimes there’s just a time to be sad, and feel the pain that the family feels,” he expressed.

“From that sadness and pain, then we start to fight.”

Also present was Coucilmember Kshama Sawant.

“For many of you this isn’t the first such memorial you’ve had to organize,” she said to the crowd. She acknowledged that untimely light cycles at crosswalks force people to jaywalk, people who are often getting to work.

“We can’t put the burden of following the rules on ordinary people if the rules that are set up are not functional,” Kshama said. “My dad was killed when I was 12 by a drunk driver.

For a working family, this is devastating in more ways than one. This affects all of us. And we need living wage jobs so people don’t have to work two jobs to try to feed their family.”

Robert Getch, a south Seattle resident and memorial organizer, teared up multiple times when expressing how these larger systemic issues had dealt a fatal hand to Ronacin and his family.

“We need to make sure everyone has equitable ways to get to where they need to go,” Robert finalized.

Local organizations that address transportation safety issues:

  •     Rainier Valley Greenworks
  •     Beacon Hill Safe Streets
  •     Seattle Bikeworks
  •     Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

There’s also a GoFundMe to help Ronacin’s family pay for funeral costs.


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kelsey-1Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website.

Featured image by Lisa Hagen Glynn

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