The horrific crash that bicyclist Dustin Valenta, 27, miraculously survived was a perfect storm of factors that are all too common when Chicago cyclists are injured or killed. Not only was Valenta knocked off his bike into traffic when a driver opened her door, he was struck by a second motorist who then fled the scene.
Last Friday at 11:40 am, Valenta, a rider-owner with Cut Cats Courier, a Lincoln Park-based food-and-parcel delivery cooperative, was commuting north on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. As he pedaled by Artemio’s Bakery, 1443 North Milwaukee, a woman in the driver’s seat of a parked car opened her door in his path. Valenta was thrown onto the street, where he was struck by the hit-and-run driver.
Valenta sustained a host of life-threatening injuries. The back of his skull, his pelvis, a shoulder blade, and 23 of 24 ribs were fractured, and he suffered a punctured lung and lacerated shoulder. Amazingly no surgery was needed, and the patient, currently in the ICU at Northwestern University Hospital, is alert and in good spirits. Doctors say Valenta, who also works as a yoga teacher and actor, wouldn’t have survived the crash were it not for his high fitness level. “It’s incredible that he’s even alive,” says Cut Cats coworker Mikey Bargo. “But he’s talking and telling jokes. He’s a little loopy because he’s on a lot of pain medication but when I talked to him on the phone it was the same old Dustin.”
Valenta’s family has enlisted the aid of Keating Law Offices, which filed a personal injury lawsuit today against the woman who opened the car door, who has been identified by police, and the second motorist, whose identity is still unknown. Attorney Mike Keating, who specializes in bike cases, says he is currently trying to piece together the details of the case.
“Dustin remembers being doored, having the wind knocked out of him and landing on the ground,” Keating says. “The next thing he remembers is being loaded into an ambulance. The paramedics told him he was hit by a truck.” It’s unclear whether the cyclist was struck by a bumper or run over by tires. “His injuries are consistent with a direct blunt force to his midsection. In my experience you would not get that constellation of injuries from a car door alone.”
Security cameras on a nearby bank likely captured video images of the crash and the hit-and-run driver; Keating is working on getting the footage. He has also been canvassing local businesses looking for witnesses, but so far he has only found people who saw the aftermath.
When Keating visited the local police headquarters yesterday he was told that the Illinois traffic crash report filled out by a responding officer, which should include the names of witnesses, was not yet available. “This happened at lunchtime on a Friday on a busy retail street,” Keating says. “I gotta believe people saw this happen.” Since the attorney doesn’t have the crash report yet, he does not know whether the first driver was cited.
This crash comes only a few months after cyclist Neill Townsend was doored and then fatally struck on the Near North Side last October. And a disturbingly high number of crashes in our city are hit-and-runs — 40 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
But this case begs the question: Why would a motorist who accidentally struck a cyclist already lying in the road not stop to provide aid? “I do think that driver could have avoided hitting Dustin if they were at a safe speed and keeping a proper lookout,” Keating says, adding that speeding, intoxication, or an arrest warrant may have motivated the hit-and-run. “My experience is that people flee the scene because they know they’ve done something wrong.”
Friends have set up donation sites to help cover medical expenses for Valenta, who is uninsured, at Go Fund Me and Give Forward. Cut Cats and Johnny Sprockets bike shop are organizing a benefit event for late February or early March, probably at Bangers and Lace tavern – we’ll keep you posted on the details.
Post updated February 14, 1:15 pm, to show time of crash as 11:40 am, as indicated on the Illinois Motorist Report.