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Family and Friends Honor Fallen Cyclist Hector Avalos at the Crash Site

Ghost bike memorial to Hector Avalos. Photo: John Greenfield

On Friday at 11:45 p.m., almost exactly one week after Hector Avalos, 28, was killed on his bicycle by an allegedly drunk driver, dozens of family members and friends held a beautiful tribute to him at the crash site. They remembered the former marine and aspiring chef as a kind, thoughtful man who loved the outdoors and riding his bike.

On December 6, Avalos was cycling back to the Southwest Side after leaving his job as a cook at a Mexican restaurant in River North. On the 2500 block of West Ogden, he was struck from behind by Robert Vais, 54, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, driving a van. Avalos was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital shortly afterwards. His funeral was held last Friday morning. A fundraising page has been launched to help cover the funeral expenses.

Hector Avalos.

Tests found Vais had a blood alcohol content of .118, well above the legal limit of .08. He is charged with a felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. At a bond hearing on December 8, Judge James Brown ordered Vais to be held in lieu of $400,000 bail, calling the death a “tragedy of epic proportions.” Avalos’ family has retained Vrdolyak Law Group as council. The next hearing takes place on December 27.

The Friday night memorial took place at the location where Vais struck Avalos, just west of a long railroad viaduct. A white ghost bike shrine has been installed on a median, with dozens of forks and spoons hung from the cycle to honor Avalos, a graduate of Washburn Culinary Institute. His loved ones gathered in the service drive next to the median and lit votive candles at the base of the shrine. A handful of bike riders, who didn’t know the deceased but identified with his story, also attended to show support for the mourners.

Photo: John Greenfield

“He was a caring dude,” said Albert Gonzalez, who grew up with Avalos in the East Side neighborhood and then moved with him to Pilsen. “He cared about all his close friends. He always made sure we were well-fed and having a good time time. He’d invite us over every week.”

Gonzalez added that his friend loved cooking, being physically active and spending time outside. “We were in Boy Scouts as little kids,” he said. “Since then he liked doing outdoors stuff like camping and fishing. He rode his bike everywhere. It didn’t matter how cold it was, he was always riding his bike.”

Photo: John Greenfield

Towards the end of the event, the attendees lit many paper lanterns, some of them heart-shaped, and sent them soaring into the sky. “We all miss him,” Alvarez said. “We’re going to keep him alive, remembering everything that he taught us.”

Updated 12/17/13 4:15 p.m.

A fundraiser will be held on Friday, December 27, to raise money for Avalos' family and promote awareness of bicycle safety. It will take place immediately after the Critical Mass ride, likely around 8 p.m., at Junior's Bar, 2058 West Cermak in Pilsen. The event organizers are seeking donations of bike gear for a raffle. If you're interested in donating gear, send a message to jgreenfield[at] and I'll connect you with the organizers.

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