The Most Dangerous Street
A complicated life ends tragically on Perkins Road
By Jeremy HarperPosted Sep 12, 2012
On the night of Sept. 3, Jason Stablier set out east riding his spray-painted blue bicycle as he had done dozens of times before. The 27-year-old lifelong capital-area resident was headed to his cousin’s apartment on the east side of town, where he had been staying for the past few months.
Stablier, who did not drive, had a love for biking that few others in Baton Rouge could rival, according to his friends and family. On more than one occasion he had pedaled from Baton Rouge to Zachary to see his ailing mother. Another time he rode alone to Denham Springs to attend his nephew’s birthday party. The time of day or distance never mattered to him if he was going to see family. He just jumped on his bike and rode.
“He was always there for everybody,” his sister, Wendy Stablier, said. “He would ride that bike 500 miles for a family function if he had to.”
On Labor Day night, Stablier phoned his cousin to tell her he was heading home just as soon he stopped at Wal-Mart for a bag of potato chips. He told her to put three corn dogs in the microwave so they’d be ready for him when he arrived. He coasted down a quiet Congress Boulevard and headed toward the 4900 block of Perkins Road, a busy five-lane route he took frequently, sometimes riding down the center turning lane instead of using the narrow shoulder.
This time, however, he never made it that far.
A tough life
Life was always complicated for Jason Stablier. Born with a mental disability that made many ordinary tasks difficult, Stablier’s mental condition and behavior worsened at age 9 when his father died. He was largely on his own from 14, and in and out of school – finally quitting his special-ed classes at Northeast High School in the 11th grade. Despite stints at Winn Dixie and Wendy’s, found it difficult to keep a steady job. He was arrested while he was still in his teens for serving as the lookout in the burglary of a rental storage unit. He was quickly convicted and sent to prison, where he would remain for nearly three years.
After hearing about Stablier and his troubles through a friend, Dennis Brewin, an accountant at Baton Rouge Water Company, decided to write Jason a letter in jail. Brewin had a brother who had died years before and who shared Stablier’s birthday, and he and Stablier had both once lived on the same mid-city street. Brewin, who said he was going through a lonely time in his life, took those similarities as providence.
“I thought the Lord had sent Jason to me to take care of,” he said.
They quickly became pen pals, and at Stablier’s behest, Brewin started visiting him in the parish prison each week. He brought him quarters so he could call his friends and family on the phone.
“He liked to call everybody, everyday,” Brewin said. “When he woke up, he’d call his sisters and his mother and me.”
Just after midnight of the last day of Stablier’s prison sentence, and just before his 21st birthday, Brewin picked him up from the prison. They shared a few cold beers before Brewin drove Stablier to Zachary to be reunited with his mother. Two days later, Stablier called and asked for a place to stay. “Momma don’t want me here,” he told Brewin.
“He was really homeless, basically, even though he had family and they all tried to take care of him,” Brewin said. “He wears your patience real thin. It was like a full-time job because you had to watch him all the time.”
Still, Stablier loved spending time with his family as often as he could, and they welcomed his visits on a regular basis. He would appear, always on his bike, for a meal or to play red rover with the neighborhood kids at his sister’s house in Denham.
“Jason always smiled,” his sister said. “I’d never seen him in a bad mood. He loved to make people laugh.”
Stablier had a family of his own, although he did not live with them on any extended periods of time, and without steady work he could not support them financially. He fathered three children by two women: Cairo Holmes, 4; Joshua Rogers, 4, and Jay’lynn Rogers, 3.
When he wasn’t riding his bike, Stablier enjoyed a number of activities, including Nascar and roller-skating. He loved to dress up each year for the Krewe of Apollo Mardi Gras ball and always insisted on finding shoes that matched the color of his vest, even if his outfit was a hard-to-find purple or blue.
But above all, Stablier loved to ride the roads. His bicycle served as his primary mode of transportation, his hobby, and sometimes his therapy. After an argument, Stablier would often take off for the bike trail that runs along the Mississippi River levee. He would traverse the entire path, pass through the LSU campus, and arrive back to the house on Woodside Drive thoroughly decompressed.
“That was his peace,” Brewin said.
Stablier would ride any bike he could get his hands on – at any one time he could be seen riding a high-barred chopper bike, a 20-inch BMX model or a full-size cruiser. He loved to scour garage sales and junk piles for salvageable bikes, which he would repair and paint himself in the back yard.
“If they had a bike, I had to buy it,” Brewin said. “Sometimes he had three bikes working at one time.”
But biking for Stablier was frequently a hazardous pursuit. It was common for him to carry bruises and scrapes from his frequent spills on the road. One of his worst accidents came in 2007, when a truck hit him on Acadian Thruway a few blocks north of Choctaw, sending him to the Earl K. Long emergency room in the back of an ambulance.
Stablier spent three months with a wheelchair and crutches recovering from a compound fracture to his leg, but he would still occasionally sneak away on his bike to the store on Acadian Thruway to get a pack of flavored cigars.
“I guess he would pedal with one leg,” Brewin said.
It’s not entirely clear what happened the night Stablier died. The latest version of the police report from the accident, updated Sept. 4, provides few details:
“The bicyclist that was killed last night has been identified as JASON MICHAEL STABLIER, 27, 4268 WOODSIDE DR. The investigation revealed that at 10:30 last night the vehicle that struck STABLIER was westbound in the 4900 block of Perkins Rd. STABLIER, who was on a bike, entered Perkins Rd. from Congress Blvd. and that’s when the vehicle struck STABLIER. STABLIER died at the scene due to his injuries. The driver of the vehicle, JASON JAMES SANDERS, 29, 8917 KEY ST., had no visible signs of injury. SANDERS was driving a 1996 Chevrolet Suburban. Alcohol is not going to be a factor in the crash and STABLIER was not wearing a helmet.
“This crash is still under investigation.”
The intersection where Stablier lost his life is less than a mile west down Perkins Road from the intersection where 30-year-old Nathaniel Crowson was killed Jan. 20 while riding his bicycle.
Crowson and a friend were riding east on Perkins at night when a man, who police say was drunk, struck them from behind and ran over them, according to police reports.
Joseph Branch, 28, was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide and second-offense DWI.
Advocates with Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets have placed a “ghost bike” memorial on Perkins Road – painted white and adorned with photos and flowers – for Stablier, just as they did for Crowson.
Bike safety advocates have long pushed for a safer east-west route through the city for bicycles.
“You can’t ride safely on that road,” said Mark Martin of BRASS. “I’ve ridden on it, but I don’t like it.”
Martin said there are, in fact, alternative east-west routes to Perkins that wind through residential areas, but they are not marked, and riders can easily get lost when trying to navigate the circuitous path. BRASS has pushed the city for signage or road markings to alert riders to the alternative routes. Bike trails or bike lanes along Perkins, or another east-west corridor like High Point Road, are unlikely, Martin said.
“They’re not in a hurry,” he said of the city. “They’ve never been in a hurry. We’re in the very, very early part in the mindset. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice more people on the hood of a car to make a point.”
Bruce Wicker, who heads the city-parish Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said the group understands the need for safer bike routes and will review and discuss the BRASS proposal at its 4 p.m. Thursday meeting at Carver Library, 720 Terrace Avenue, two blocks East of Highland Road.
“Time to move on”
The night he died, Stablier phoned Brewin at 9:52 p.m. asking if he could stop by for a visit. Brewin told him no, saying it was too late and he was tired from picking up storm debris in his yard all day. Stablier called his cousin a few minutes later and said he was headed home.
A few months ago, Stablier moved out of Brewin’s Woodside Drive house and into his cousin’s apartment, where he helped care for her 2-year-old boy. She offered him a free room if he babysat the toddler while she was away at work.
“It was time for him to move on,” Brewin said.
Brewin said the next thing he remembers from the night of Sept. 4 was the three police officers knocking at his door at a quarter to midnight. They asked if he knew a Jason Stablier because his address was still listed as Brewin’s Woodside Drive home.
Brewin sat down on his front porch and asked the officers what was happening. He knew it was serious when he saw the officer’s flashlight pointed at Stablier’s ID card.
“Is something wrong,” he asked. “Is Jason hurt? What hospital is he at?”
“No sir,” the cop holding the ID replied. Then he told Brewin the terrible news: Stablier was struck by a car on Perkins Road. He was killed instantly, the officer said.
A few days removed from the memorial service at Greenoaks Funeral Home on Florida Boulevard, Brewin and Wendy Stablier recounted that tragic night and the often-tumultuous years leading up to Stablier’s final moment. Wendy Stablier said her brother, despite his continuous troubles throughout his life, had always bounced back. Before this, he had always survived.
“Jason has been through so much, and he kept recovering,” she said. “He never stopped. I never expected something like this to happen.”
Brewin spoke calmly and affectionately about Stablier, pointing out the poster boards from the memorial service decorated with a dozen pictures of his friend: smiling on his bike at the Tammany Trace bike trail near Abita Springs, looking sharp in a shiny blue tuxedo vest, or grinning widely holding one of his children in his arms.
Brewin said that he believes Stablier is in heaven “despite all the things that he’s done.” He said his roommate is worried about him because Stablier, such a central figure in his life for so many years, is gone. He said that recently in the morning, as he had his coffee on the porch where he would often spend some quiet time watching the birds while Stablier slept in, he couldn’t help but cry.
“This was my son,” he said.