At Large in Ballard: Crossing the bridge
She died on June 24, 1988, but Lucy Rush has been on my mind almost daily for the last year.
She was 40 years old when she died, married with three children between the ages of 7 and 13. She was a local celebrity, best known as “The Safeway Lady.”
For the last year, I have been working on a book project that simultaneously took me away from Ballard and yet always brought me back. Back to Lucy Rush, a woman I never met, who died as the result of an accident labeled “bizarre” on the Ballard Bridge as she walked south toward her home on Queen Anne.
She died seven days before I moved to Ballard, even as we moved north over the Ballard Bridge from Queen Anne.
For 17 years before her death, Lucy Rush represented Safeway in Washington, Idaho and Alaska: in print, television and radio advertisements.
Raised in Minnesota, she’d attended Harvard University and had dreams of acting on Broadway.
She met her future husband after returning to Minnesota and moved with him to Seattle, where she was soon beloved (and recognized everywhere) as “The Safeway Lady.”
One day on the Ballard Bridge, a ladder came off a local masonry’s truck and hit Lucy Rush in the head. She died of her injuries a day later. Evidently the rope securing the ladder on the truck broke.
Not quite three years ago, I met and profiled here a couple who had started a publishing company in Ballard. Bennett & Hastings were publishing Ballard writer Michael Schein’s book. He had found them literally around the corner after seeking out East Coast publishers.
That connection led in turn to the opportunity to co-author a book with a woman whose daughter had been also been seriously injured because of an item that became unsecured and went through the young woman’s windshield. The mother was Robin Abel; the daughter Maria Federici.
Who doesn’t remember the news reports and the accompanying photo of a beautiful, dark-haired young woman who was simply driving home from work when an entertainment center went through her windshield?
Subsequent to her survival, she and her mother went on to pass “Maria’s Law” so that substantial injury or death resulting from an improperly secured load was classified as a crime; and injured parties were eligible for the Crime Victims Compensation.
Since the winter of 2009, I have been on a physical and mental journey as I interviewed people all over the Puget Sound region, reviewed trial transcripts and spent countless hours with Maria’s mother, helping her to tell the story she has always known needed to be told.
She believes that Maria survived “injuries incompatible with life” for a reason: so that her survival could potentially save hundreds of lives all over the United States through laws and awareness of the need to “Secure Your Load.”
It has been challenging to keep my focus on Ballard while immersed in accounts of other accidents due to road debris from unsecured loads from all over the state and nation.
What was essentially dismissed as a “bizarre” accident when Lucy Rush died in 1988 is actually a daily danger. The American Automobile Association published a report that attributed up to 25,000 incidents per year involving road debris, with an estimated 400 per year in just Washington.
That doesn’t include all the items that become airborne every day.
On May 23, a pickaxe came out of a truck bed and somehow passed between the seats of a couple driving on I-405 – the same road where the black-on-black entertainment center shattered Maria Federici’s windshield and hit her in the face.
Once you become aware of the dangers of unsecured loads, you realize they are all around you. The pickup truck on its way to the transfer station, the landscape crew with unsecured trash cans, perhaps even an item impulsively plucked from the curb with its “Free” sign still flapping.
After 16 months of interviews, writing and editing, the book is done. “Out of Nowhere” by Robin Abel (and myself) will be released at a party from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 9 at The Sorrento Hotel.
I never planned to write a book, but Maria Federici’s mom is as persuasive as her daughter is indomitable.
What began as the need to increase my income so as to make a move within Ballard became long drives to Renton and beyond. What started as a project has become a shared mission: how to increase awareness of the need to secure all loads.
Every time I turned home toward Ballard, I would think about what Maria Federici lost that night in 2004. And whenever I cross the Ballard Bridge, I think about Lucy Rush, a beautiful woman who left behind a husband, three children, mother, sisters, brother and thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest who could recognize her anywhere.
It has been an amazing journey, but I’m glad to be safely home.