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Hit-and-Run Pedestrian Crashes Are All Too Common in Chicago

A memorial to Christopher Sanchez near the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

e hit-and-run crash that killed Christopher Sanchez while he was crossing Milwaukee Avenue in Avondale last month was a tragedy, but it wasn't an anomaly. According to data released by the city, between 2005 and 2014, two out of five Chicago pedestrian fatalities involved drivers who fled, leaving their victims dying in the street.

Local authorities and traffic safety advocates aren't certain why so many Chicago motorists fail to render aid after they strike people on foot. But they agree that more needs to be done to reduce the number of fatal pedestrian crashes in Chicago, including hit-and-runs.

Sanchez, 34, worked as an auto mechanic and lived with his parents on the 3100 block of North Sawyer Avenue. Nicknamed "Guerito," Mexican slang for a light-complexioned person, he's remembered as a hard-working and kind-hearted man by family and friends. "Chris could be shy, but he was always very helpful, and he often had a big smile on his face," recalls his cousin, Mimi Osoria. "His nephews and nieces adored him."

Sanchez had suffered from insomnia since his mother's death from cancer a year ago, according to Osoria's sister Maria Cartage. She says that early in the morning on Sunday, February 21, Sanchez strolled a mile west of his home to his regular tavern to have a beer or two. "He was trying to do the responsible thing by walking instead of driving to the bar and, ironically, that's what got him killed," she says.

After leaving the bar at about 5:20 AM Sanchez was heading west across the north leg of the Belmont and Milwaukee intersection, walking in the crosswalk. Cartage says he may have been going to a nearby 24-hour Walgreens for cigarettes, or else to El Gallo Bravo taqueria, at the southwest corner of the intersection.

Still from speed camera footage released by the Chicago Police Department showing the the driver strike Sanchez.

Speed camera footage released by the Chicago Police Department shows a white Ford SUV heading northwest on Milwaukee with the green light. Sanchez is already in the middle of the northwest-bound lane as the driver plows into him, apparently without braking. Sanchez was thrown 30 feet into the air and was pronounced dead soon afterwards, according to authorities.

"[The driver] was heartless for not stopping," Osoria says. "He could have provided first aid, or at least called 911 to help my cousin."

Sanchez was one of at least six people who were injured or killed last month while on foot in the Chicago region by drivers who left the scene, according to reports from local news outlets. Three of the crashes occurred within the city, and all but two of the victims died.

The most egregious case, from a law-enforcement perspective, was that of Izah Malik. The 26-year-old woman was struck and killed by a female driver on Golf Road in Morton Grove, according to authorities. About a half hour after the deadly crash, the motorist drove to a nearby courthouse and told police she thought she might have hit something, but claimed it had been too dark to see what she hit, despite the fact that her car was equipped with headlights. Inexplicably, no charges were filed.

"If you can't charge for hit-and-run, that's ridiculous," the victim's cousin Faisal Malik told the Chicago Tribune. "If we can't protect people who are just walking down the street, there's something wrong."

Statistics show it's all too common for drivers to flee after killing people on foot or bicycles in Chicago. (Disclosure: it's common enough that even my editor at the Reader was the victim of a hit-and-run crash in 2008.)

Read the rest of the article on the Chicago Reader website.

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