Drunk Driver Kills Former Marine on Bike in Douglas Park

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Hector Avalos. Photo via Facebook

Robert Vais, 54, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges after he fatally struck cyclist Hector Avalos, 28, with his van Friday night. Avalos, from the 1800 block of West Cermak, was biking back to the Southwest Side after leaving his job as a cook at a Mexican restaurant in River North when Vais, a Riverside resident, struck him with his van on the 2500 block of West Ogden at about 11:50 p.m., police said.

Vais was heading southwest in his 2002 Ford Windstar and struck Avalos from behind, according to the police. Although media reports have said the cyclist was on his way home, he apparently had another destination since he was several blocks west of his house when the crash occurred. Much of this block of Ogden is occupied by a long railroad viaduct, where poor sightlines and lighting may have been a contributing factor. Avalos was taken to nearby Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.


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Viaduct on the 2500 block of West Ogden

Vais stayed at the scene, and police said he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot. “I was the driver of that van over there,” he told the police, according to court records. “I hit him. Is he OK?” Tests found he had a blood alcohol content of .118, well above the legal limit of .08.

According to a Tribune report, the families of both the victim and the accused wept during the bond hearing Sunday, as Judge James Brown ordered Vais to be held in lieu of $400,000 bail, calling the death a “tragedy of epic proportions.” Avalos’ mother Ingrid Cossio told DNAinfo she was shocked that the judge set bail, which means the driver could be released from custody soon. “I thought there was going to be no bond,” she said. “He’s a person who killed someone else… Why would you let him out?”

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Robert Vais. Photo: Chicago Police Department

It’s also worth noting that while someone who accidentally killed someone with a gun while intoxicated would almost certainly be charged with some kind of homicide, this is usually not the case when the same crime is committed with a motor vehicle. However, occasionally a drunk driver who unintentionally kills someone does get charged with vehicular homicide, as was the case in this recent Philadelphia-area crash.

Cossio described her son, who served five years in the Marines, as a loving man who enjoyed the outdoors and rode his bike everywhere. He was studying to become a chef. Coworker Jesus Vargas told DNA the Avalos was a hard worker and a helpful person, and that he had considered going home the night he was killed via the Pink Line, which would have dropped him off a few blocks from his house. “He was saying he really didn’t want to ride his bike,” Vargas said. “He wanted to take the train… He kind of thought about it for a minute, and then he decided to take his bike.”

Fatality Tracker: 2013 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths

Pedestrian: 19 (15 were from hit-and-run crashes, 2 in semi- and box truck crashes)
Bicyclist: 4

  • Chicagio

    John – Do you have any fatality stats from years past? Or a link to the data? Thanks, man.

  • Here’s Grid Chicago’s (Steven and my previous blog) count for last year:

    Pedestrian: 29 (13 have been hit-and-run crashes)
    Pedalcyclist: 7 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
    Skateboard: 1 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)

    However, we missed a few ped fatalities, presumably ones that weren’t reported in other publications. The CPD counted 48 pedestrian deaths that year: http://www.suntimes.com/17597453-418/a-deadly-year-for-pedestrians-48-die-in-chicago-in-2012.html

  • IDOT counted only 44 pedestrian deaths in 2012.

  • Bicyclist fatalities have risen slightly over the past few years. I’ve compiled some bicyclist and pedestrian stats into a Google Docs with some plain English column names.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApCefaGOt5KgdE5JMTdmWElEaFhJWWd5SW5xYVFaYkE#gid=0

    The number of crashes where the bicyclist was the first person or thing hit by a car (that resulted in injury or $1,500+ property damage) has risen 11.03% from 2011 to 2012 while the number of people injured (all people involved in these crashes) rose 11.47%.

    The number of crashes where the pedestrian was the first person or thing hit by a car (that resulted in injury or $1,500+ property damage) has fallen -2.92% from 2011 to 2012 while the number of people injured (all people involved in these crashes) fell -5.68%.

  • Kevin M

    Is Ogden slated to eventually get protected bike lanes, or some improvement to biking infrastructure?

  • Chicagio

    thanks guys

  • No, Ogden Avenue is not part of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

  • Lisa Curcio

    “It’s also worth noting that while someone who accidentally killed someone with a gun while intoxicated would almost certainly be charged with some kind of homicide . . .” Sorry, but I would really like to see your back up for this. Homicide usually involves intent. “Accidentally kill(ing)” someone more likely than not would result in a charge of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, depending on the facts of the case. There might yet be a charge of “reckless homicide” here, after there is more investigation. In Illinois, that is the charge when a person kills someone with a vehicle. We do not have a crime that is called “vehicular homicide”. Reckless homicide is, in essence, the same as a involuntary manslaughter.

    John and Steven, you do good work. But sometimes your rush to write an important story results in “slapdashery”. I really expect more from you.

  • Aren’t voluntary and involuntary manslaughter different forms of homicide charges?

  • Jim Mitchell

    (720 ILCS 5/9-3) (from Ch. 38, par. 9-3)
    Sec. 9-3. Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide.
    (a) A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly, except in cases in which the cause of the death consists of the driving of a motor vehicle or operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft, in which case the person commits reckless homicide.

  • Kevin M

    Thanks for your answer. I think that’s a mistake. I don’t know of any reasonable alternative routes to Ogden. How many more cyclists and pedestrians have to killed, injured or otherwise left under-served by this highly-important/unique public access way before change happens?

  • Kevin M

    PS, not a mistake in your answer, but a mistake on the planner’s behalf for leaving Ogden out of the 2020 Cycling Plan.

  • Roland Solinski

    What a shame. Ogden is so wide relative to its traffic load – it can and should be re-engineered to provide safe lanes for cyclists, refuges for pedestrians, and have plenty of lanes to spare. I wonder why this hasn’t been pitched?

    Douglas Park and North Lawndale aren’t the wealthiest neighborhoods, but King Drive runs through some rundown areas yet is very well-maintained and has seen a well-designed PBL proposal.

  • Ogden Avenue south of Roosevelt Road is designed much like the boulevard system, with its “service” drives separated from the main drive by medians (although concrete in Ogden’s case).

  • David P.

    I wonder which section of Ogden in the photo he was riding in? I ride that stretch regularly, and always ride the ‘local’ lanes as soon as they appear at Western. There is virtually no traffic on that part.

  • I believe it is a mistake as well, given that it is a diagonal and most other diagonal streets are included in the plan.

  • The problem with the local lanes (or service drives if you apply a Boulevard typology) is that they have long periods of exposure at intersections.

  • David P.

    What do you mean?

  • To bike in the service drive across the intersection you are exposing yourself to cross traffic and turning traffic for dozens to over 100 feet (the distance from concrete median to the next concrete median).

  • jdunlevy

    I bike in the local lanes/service drives on Ogden between Western and Pulaski, too. On the ground it’s always looked/felt safer to me. Maybe I’m not properly visualizing the increased exposure. When I’ve biked at night, car/truck traffic’s usually been pretty light, but I have noticed drivers also go much faster (but fast especially west of Pulaski, outside of this area).

  • Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

    Murder, manslaughter, homicide, and their variants all fall under the umbrella of “homicide charges.” Some homicide charges apply to acts like this one, where the perpetrator unintentionally killed someone with his motor vehicle.

    The facts don’t seem to be in dispute — Vais was driving drunk and killed Avalos. So, where is the reckless homicide charge?

  • h

    I ride this exact spot regularly– Steven is exactly right. It should be a laid back place to ride (the side boulevard) but I have seen cars drive speeding and swerving between the main and side boulevard between Western and California so many times and left me feeling like I only survived by sheer luck that I do my best to avoid it.

  • h

    I know it is not the most important thing here, but I have been trying to figure out how he ended up at this location on his way to 18th and Wood from River North.
    All I can think of is that he actually did end up taking the pink line, fell asleep, and woke up at the California stop on the Green Line….

  • h

    Wish I could edit b/c I know that won’t make sense to some– this has happened to me– you take the Green line because it happens to come first and you’re cold or whatever, intending to switch at Ashland, and fall asleep….

  • h

    I would not agree that large fast streets should be prime choices for bicycle infrastructure. This is exactly what’s behind the recent killing spree in London.

  • Roland Solinski

    As long as we’re bringing up European cities, the wide boulevards of Paris (the explicit model for Ogden) seem to handle bike traffic just fine, either on the service roads or on paths built into the medians.

  • Jennifer

    The proposal may have been well-designed, but what’s actually out there now is a joke. And all the paint in the world won’t stop drunk drivers from killing people.

  • Gabriel

    He was going to California and Cermak, where he lived.

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