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Witness Describes the Crash That Killed Cyclist Jesse J. Rodriguez, and Nearly Killed Her

Jesse Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the family.

Update 10/1/18: Jesse J. Rodriguez's obituary states: "Jesse J. Rodriguez passed away unexpectedly on September 23, 2018. He was a caring and loving family man, a considerate and generous son and brother. Jesse was brilliant and had a tremendous sense of humor in any setting. He was passionate about learning, politics and music. His latest achievement was a pilot's license."

The shape of the intersection played a role in the hit-and-run crash that killed cyclist Jesse J. Rodriguez Sunday afternoon, according to a woman who was standing nearby with her bike and was almost struck herself.

Police said Rodriguez, 67, was standing at the southeast corner of the Devon Avenue and McCormick Boulevard when the eastbound driver of a silver Dodge Charger struck him and fled east. Rodriguez, who lived in Rogers Park, was taken to Saint Francis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy the next day found that he had died of multiple injuries.

A nearby business provided a security camera image of the damaged car to police, including its plate number, which ran in multiple news reports. The driver, a 15-year-old boy, turned himself in to the 20th District police station the next morning accompanied by a parent, according to the police. The teen has been charged with felony counts of reckless homicide, failure to report a crash, and leaving the scene of a crash. According to a post by Rodriguez's friend Bill Nedza on The Chainlink social networking site, the arraignment took place today, and funeral arrangements were being made today.

Nedza told me he knew Rodriguez, who worked as a contractor on sites around the city, for about 12 years. "Jesse was a genuinely kind, caring person, and had an infectiously warm personality. He could tell wonderful stories that you’d love to listen to, and he had a way of telling them that always had you wanting to hear another. He cared immensely about his family and friends, and all people, really, and always, always wanted to help people." Nedza added that on the day of the crash Rodriguez "was simply out for a bike ride, which he loved to do."

The Southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. Photo: John Greenfield
The southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. Photo: John Greenfield
The Southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. Photo: John Greenfield

After Streetsblog reported on the case, a woman named Stephanie contacted me (she asked that we not run her last name) to say she witnessed the collision. A dental assistant and West Rogers Park resident, she said she had been biking north on the nearby North Shore Channel Trail after visiting the North Park Nature Center that afternoon. She saw Rodriguez cycling northbound on the trail on his black hybrid bike, and then they both stopped for a light at Devon, where cyclists are supposed to jog about 50 feet west of the trail to McCormick to use a crosswalk. They were both standing, holding their bikes, rather than straddling them, she recalled. Rodriguez was standing within the crosswalk a few inches in front of the curb cut; she was closer to a "Shared Lane: Yield to Bikes Sign" directed at drivers on Devon, which has faded bike-and-chevron shared-lane markings.

It was then that the teen, speeding driving north on McCormick, whipped around the southeast corner, Stephanie said. The corners of the intersection have a wide, rounded shape, rather than being right angles, which facilitates fast turns by motorists. She said she believe this contributed to the driver's high rate of speed. McCormick also bends southwest from Devon, so the southeast corner is an obtuse angle, which also makes it easier for drivers to make fast turns.

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 7.31.30 PM
Rodriguez was struck at the southeast corner of the intersection. Image: Google Maps
Rodriguez was struck at the southeast corner of the intersection. Image: Google Maps

Stephanie says the driver struck Rodriguez, then hopped the the curb and careened towards her on the sidewalk. "I had a second to jump out of the way," she recalled. "I was in fight-or-flight mode." The teen sheered the yellow sign off the sidewalk and then sped down Devon with the car's front hood popped, which obstructed his view, she said. (In the released photo of the damaged car, the hood is not yet open.)

Rodriguez was thrown some 30 feet and landed face-down on the sidewalk, Stephanie said. "I was in shock... I was praying that he'd be OK, but he wasn't." While she is trained in CPR, she feared it was unsafe to turn him over, and she couldn't tell whether he was breathing (it's unsafe to perform CPR on someone who is breathing), so she dialed 911 instead. Another bystander told her Rodriguez was bleeding from the face. "The police detectives I spoke to told me we did the right thing my not moving him," she said. "My only wish is that I would have kneeled down to try to talk to Jesse."

The sign Stephanie was standing near. Photo: John Greenfield
The sign Stephanie was standing near. Photo: John Greenfield

Stephanie said she doesn't know why the underage teen was driving, but she has offered to testify to help ensure that there is a just outcome to the case. "I just hope that the family gets some closure."

"I am so grateful to be alive right now, yet I'm extremely saddened that the man next to me did not survive," Stephanie said, adding that she wanted to drop off flowers at the corner, but couldn't bring herself to return to the site of the terrifying crash. "The whole thing was just so insane. It's such a waste of life."

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