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Widow makes movie for late husband

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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A bicycle painted entirely white from wheels to handlebars leans against a traffic sign in Lake Orion, Mich.

The ghost bike marks the location near where 57-year-old cyclist Ralph Dennis Finneren was struck and killed by a distracted driver on July 27, 2011. Finneren's widow, Judith Finneren, wants to tell the world the story using the Sedona Film School as the medium.

She is currently in prepro-duction for her short film "Ghostbike: End Distracted Driving Now-Save Lives!" and will be filming in Sedona on Tuesday, Feb. 5. On Sunday, Feb. 10, the crew heads to Michigan and will wrap-up filming there on Monday, Feb. 18.

After Monday, May 6, it and other films in the school's documentary class will be screened to other students, who critique each other's films at the end of the semester. The final films will be screened for the public at the shorts film festival over Memorial Day weekend at the end of May.

Set up as memorials to bikers struck and killed by motorists, ghost bikes began appearing in, St. Louis in 2003 before spreading nationwide. In the Sedona area, a ghost bike near the intersection of State Route 89A and Lower Red Rock Loop Road marks a location near where 67-year-old Cornville resident Pete Bennett was struck and killed at 9:17 a.m. on Thursday, July 19, 2007.

At the time of his death Ralph and Judith Finneren were married 37 years and had two adult children, Rory and Holli, both of whom now live in the Washington, D.C., area.

Ralph Finneren worked as a pipefitter at General Motors' Pontiac East Assembly for 30 years before retiring and then teaching at Macomb Community College as well as driving a truck part time for an auto parts company. He had' a master's degree in Chinese history with a minor in African history.

He was also a soccer referee, having gotten into it when the couple's daughter started playing soccer.

"He was a wonderful, wonderful man," Judith Finneren said.

A cyclist since the 1970s, Ralph Finneren had competed in a few running-cycling biathlons in the Lake Orion area and was incorporating swim training to become a triathlete.

He never got the chance to compete in a triathlon, Judith Finneren said.

Ralph Finneren was biking home from the part-time job when he was struck at 5:41 p.m. on July 27, 2011, by a 28-year-old man in a Pontiac Grand Am. Finneren, who was wearing a helmet, was rushed to a local hospital where he died of his injuries a short time later.

The driver had no drugs or alcohol in his system. He was reportedly distracted — running late and looking in the back seat at the time of the accident. He told Oakland County Sheriff's Office investigators he reportedly did not see Finneren before the crash.

The driver was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and to participate in a Ride of Silence, an annual silent bike ride meant to bring attention to cyclists killed or seriously injured by motorists.

Judith Finneren said the driver was very upset after the accident and has been very remorseful ever since the crash. She said she had a long, meaningful talk with him after his sentencing and that there was a lot of forgiveness in their conversation.

Finneren is waiting to confirm an interview with him when the film crew heads to Michigan. She's conduct the interview over the phone if he's unable or unwilling to be on camera.

The crew will also interview Oakland County Sheriff's Office crash reconstructionist Harry Joseph, who worked at the scene of the fatal accident, and the first person on the scene, a woman who had been driving to church and prayed over Finneren's body before emergency crews arrived.

Finneren said her "mission is to educate viewers as to how one careless moment behind the wheel can change lives forever."

Finneren worked as an extra in a few films in Michigan, which led to her interest in filmmaking. She had also been to the Sedona area several times beginning in 2006, usually alone as part of a "retreat and recharge" she said. Her husband accompanied on one trip in 2007.

While in Sedona after the accident, the woman in Oak Creek Canyon with whom Finneren stays told her about the Sedona Film School and she resolved to enroll the next semester as part of her healing process.

Finneren has participated in the Ride of Silence, events of the League of Michigan Bicyclists and the Brett Saks Bike Safety Festival, an event in Chandler held in honor of a cyclist killed in 2008. She also has worked with cycling groups in Arizona to raise awareness about distracted drivers and bicycle safety.

Finneren is aiming to raise $5,000 to finance the film. She's already reached $4,130, 82.6 percent of her goal, through IndieGoGo, an online crowd-funding website and has 18 more days left to reach her goal, as of Friday, Jan. 25. The site contains a short promotional video for her project and an overview of the costs associated with the production.

Finneren is the writer/director of the film and works with a producer, cameraman and editor. Students at the school assist with other parts of each other's projects so each student gets a taste of the different roles in producing a short film.

To donate to her cause, search "Ghostbike" on the IndieGoGo website.

Finneren said she plans on submitting her film to film festivals around the country, including bike-centered film festivals. She also plans to submit her film to the Sedona International Film Festival and the Traverse City Film

Festival, a festival in her native Michigan founded by fellow filmmaker and Michigander Michael Moore.

She said she would like to turn the film into a feature-length documentary or have it used by legal authorities and cycling groups.

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Original Publication Date: January 30, 2013

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