Rest in peace, Bryan Rodriguez.
I never met the man, and I arrived near the scene after he had already been transported to the hospital, but I want to acknowledge his service to the community. Seeing a man’s blood in the street with your own eyes changes things from “some poor guy, how terrible” to “the man whose blood painted a picture that will stick with me for some time.”
Bryan Rodriguez worked for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works. Friday morning he was doing that day’s job, repairing potholes, following behind a truck laden with asphalt pellets, presumably with shovel in hand. At 8:15 AM, a car slammed into him.
I got to one of my schools shortly before 10:00 Friday, in advance of an IEP meeting. An IEP (individualized education plan) meeting is a special education event where students, parents, educators–regular and special ed, and administrators convene to discuss a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and develop a plan to address the student’s identified weaknesses. I don’t have a figure, but I estimate that by now, I’ve been part of no fewer than 5,000 kids’ lives in such a way.
I noticed a cruiser along with police tape blocking the street just beyond the school’s, but didn’t think much more of it as my supervisor and I entered school and ascended the first set of stairs up toward our meeting. Crime and the ensuing police presence are so familiar to me that I’m not proud to admit I didn’t give it much more thought. I hadn’t yet met this student whose needs we were to discuss, so my mind was fixed on what I had read about the student and what I was going to say.
My supervisor and I stopped at the stair landing where another teacher began cataloging for us the events unfolding in the street below, unseen to us until we reached the bank of windows overlooking Seventeenth Street. She relayed the circumstances of the accident as she knew them. The driver and passenger bolted after Mr. Rodriguez was hit. I could see the car partially wedged under the city truck, the man’s reflective vest on the ground. The car had no plates. Speed and/or inattentiveness was a factor. The mayor had already been on-scene. No more needed to be said. It was understood that the DPW worker had been killed. There had since been a steady stream of Public Works trucks passing by the scene of the crime. I wondered if my husband had been behind the wheel of one of them.
Last Wednesday a Milwaukee Police Department officer was shot and killed by a man at whose house a search warrant was being executed. Officer Matthew Rittner was killed in the line of duty, and the city mourned. Twice in two days now, the city lost one of its employees. Like Officer Rittner, whose body was escorted to the coroner’s office by a parade of law enforcement vehicles, Bryan Rodriguez’s now lifeless body was trailed by a procession of golden-yellow DPW trucks. I found myself oddly comforted by that.
You bet this accident hit close to home. Not only was I a late witness to this tragedy myself, but all I could think was it could just as easily have been my husband. A reckless driver has already caused one of his buddy’s fingers to be severed. Some idiot has shot at guys up in the bucket trucks.
I understand accidents happen, but I am willing to bet they happen less frequently when people actually give a damn about human life. When I tell friends and family about events such as these, a typical response is, “Wow, don’t they care if they hurt someone?” The desperate, terrifying, fundamental truth that needs to be understood before that question even gets asked is this: They don’t care enough about their own life to consider the lives of others.
No one goes into public service for its lavish salary, and the days of what used to be a promise of benefits some-day-in-the-future in lieu of premium wage-today have long since passed. Internet trolls have had their field days with the loss of these two men this week, asserting “coulda-shoulda-wouldas” to somehow assign a sliver of blame to the victims. Trolls, you’re despicable. This guy set his alarm Friday morning, probably happy to have the weekend looming, maybe he’d grab a good old Milwaukee Friday night fish fry, have a couple of beers, I don’t know. But I’m confident he thought he’d have that weekend. His family couldn’t possibly have thought he’d never make it home.
I do not believe he will get a formal send-off similar to what the first responders do, but I feel at the very least he should receive a thank you for his service. Thank you, Bryan Rodriguez, may you rest in peace.