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