Editor’s Note: This week’s print edition of Law Week Colorado features a longer Q&A with Frank Bingham.
By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Frank Bingham had nearly completed his first semester at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law when the unimaginable happened: He and his family — wife, Becca, 39, and two young children, Macie, 4, and Garrison, 2 — were struck by a drunk driver speeding past a red light and through a Denver crosswalk. Becca, Macie and Garrison died; Bingham survived with injuries to his right arm.
That was Nov. 10, 2006.
Three and a half years later, Bingham, 44, is on the verge of graduating from law school. Through the terrible aftermath of the accident, he never succumbed to bitterness and never gave up hope in the future. Bingham’s classmates, inspired by the indomitability of his spirit, recently elected him student speaker for the Class of 2010’s commencement ceremony next month.
Bingham’s friend and classmate Linda Stanley, who started taking evening classes at the law school at the same time he did in 2006, nominated him to speak. Like other nominees, Bingham submitted a personal statement discussing the things he would talk about in the five allotted minutes.
“I said I’d like my story to inspire everyone to reflect on the interconnectedness of life and the vital importance of relationships with family, friends and community,” Bingham said. “I hope it helps others to recognize the frailty of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow and the danger of misplaced priorities. But above all, I want to focus on the resilient nature of the human spirit and confirm the fact that hope and love can survive.”
He cited a passage from the Arthurian novel The Once and Future King as a source of inspiration, in which the wizard Merlyn tells a despondent young King Arthur that “the best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.”
The entire first-year evening student class of about 90 stood in solidarity with Bingham in the wake of the accident, Stanley said.
“We all got some red string and wore it around our wrists basically until it fell off. Our professors did, too, and it was about a year for most of us until they fell off,” she said. “It was a showing of support and that we were all together as a team.”
Bingham said his fellow law students were “incredibly supportive” all the way through. “I’ve gone back recently and looked at some of the notes and e-mails that some of my classmates sent right after the accident. They really are incredibly heartfelt and just genuine.”
Stanley visited her friend when he was in the hospital after the crash, and accompanied him to court for the criminal proceedings against the drunk driver, Lawrence Trujillo, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and received a 48-year prison sentence.
Bingham lacked the energy or motivation to make his own dinner, so Stanley often brought him home-cooked dinners. Though he struggled many days just to get out of bed, Bingham returned to school two months after losing his family.
“I took the rest of November and the holiday period off, made up some missed work with a couple of my professors over the holiday break, and come January I staggered back in,” he said.
“We can’t really know the pain he has endured,” Stanley said. “We can only imagine it. And even just imagining it hurts so bad for those of us that have children that we can’t even fathom what he must have gone through.”
In the months after the tragedy, Bingham received a number of checks from well-wishers. Even in his grief, he thought of helping others. He used the money to establish the Frank Bingham Family Memorial Annual Scholarship Fund to help DU law students who choose a career in children’s advocacy or animal rights.
Mayor John Hickenlooper suggested to Bingham that an art installation could be installed at Skyline Park, across the street from the accident site at 15th and Arapahoe, that would inspire people to pause and reflect on the relationships they have with the people who are close to them.
Bingham hopes that vision will soon be a reality. He has commissioned local artist Robert Pietruszewski, to design a 30-foot-tall kinetic sculpture titled “Connections,” and is raising funds for it on his website, frankbingham.com.
Bingham, who already had a Ph.D. and a successful career as an educator when he began law school, doesn’t know exactly what he’ll do when he graduates in May. Though he initially sought a law degree in part to lend credibility on public education policy matters, he’s leaving the door open to become a practicing lawyer. His grandfather and namesake had a dual career as a school superintendant and U.S. attorney that Bingham considers emulating.
“I don’t know what I’ll be doing once I get through the bar,” Bingham said, “but I particularly enjoyed the work I did in education law.”
He interned with two local firms — Caplan & Earnest and Pryor Johnson Carney Karr Nixon — while in law school, as well as with the legal office of Denver Public Schools.
While much of Bingham’s time is devoted to finishing up his last semester of law school, he had something else on his mind lately.
“One month ago I got engaged,” he said last week. “That’s quite an exciting development.”
It’s a development Bingham said is tied in with his belief that the best thing for being sad is learning, both in the law and other areas of life.
“I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. It had been in the back of my mind, but I decided I had the opportunity during the summer, so I went overseas to a language school,” he said. “And picking my language school tied into another thing I was trying to learn, and that was to kite surf. So I ended up in this small town in southern Spain [called Tarifa] where I could study Spanish and also practice kite surfing.”
While wandering the old part of town one night, Bingham saw a poster for a tango class, and thought, “Well, why not learn tango while I’m here as well.”
“The second night that I went to class, she came in,” he said.
The Argentine instructor spoke only Spanish, and Bingham’s grip on the language was still a bit shaky. “So he asked Nina to dance with me the entire evening so that she could translate for me.”
Bingham’s fiancée is Swiss, but has been living in Spain for years.
“I was there for a month and I met her probably halfway through the time there,” he said. “We’ve both been traveling during the last nine months or so — I’ve been over there to Switzerland and to Spain, and she’s been over here.”
The two are now “wading through the U.S. immigration morass.” Bingham hopes she’ll like it enough in Colorado that she’ll want to stay, though he’s open to moving elsewhere if she doesn’t.