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Widow of Cyclist Jesse Rodriguez Sues Parents of Teen Who Killed Him

1:58 PM CST on November 29, 2018

Jesse Rodgriguez

Earlier this month a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of Linda Mastrandea, the widow of cyclist Jesse Rodriguez, 67, against the parents of the fifteen-year-old boy who struck him last September in the Pulaski Park neighborhood.

According to a witness Streetsblog interviewed after the crash, Rodriguez had been biking north on the North Shore Channel Trail on Sunday, September 23, when he stopped at about 5:20 p.m at the southeast corner of Devon and McCormick Avenue to wait for a red light. She said a driver then whipped around the corner and struck Rodriguez before taking out a "Shared Lane: Yield to Bikes" sign on the sidewalk and fleeing east on Devon.

The teen turned himself in to the 20th District police station the next morning accompanied by a parent, police said. He was charged with felony counts of reckless homicide, failure to report a crash, and leaving the scene of a crash.

According to attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mastrandea in the Cook County Circuit Court on November 2, the suit claims the parents are liable due to "negligent entrustment of a vehicle to a minor." He added that this doesn't indicate that the parents gave the teen permission to drive underage, but rather that they were negligent because they made it easy for him to do so.

Keating said that it's not yet clear whether the boy had a history of underaged driving. However, he said, "It is my understanding that, due to a series of prior issues with the law, the judge initially would not release the minor from custody because of the severity and extent of the legal issues."

The attorney said that while no trial date has been set in the criminal case against the youth, the matter was up for a hearing today, which he did not attend because juvenile court hearings are closed to the public. The initial status hearing for the civil case is scheduled for January 2.

Diagram of the crash from the police report.
Diagram of the crash from the police report.

The witness Streetsblog interviewed stated that Rodriguez, who worked as a contractor, was standing with his bike in the street, a few inches in front of the curb cut, when he was struck. However, Keating provided the crash report, which states that several other witnesses said the driver "made a right hand turn onto Devon, driving onto the sidewalk, striking [Rodriguez] and then fleeing [eastbound] onto Devon." This may indicate that the victim was actually on the sidewalk when he was struck.

Jesse Rodriguez and Linda Mastandrea. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea
Jesse Rodriguez and Linda Mastandrea. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea

Update 1/14/19: Jesse Rodriguez's wife Linda Mastandrea recently shared some additional information about what he was like as a person. Here's a transcript of our conversation.

John Greenfield: Linda, I'm very sorry for your loss. Can you tell me a little bit about what Jesse was like and what he did?

Linda Mastandrea: For work, he worked for the city of Chicago for a long time as a journeyman carpenter initially, then he worked for the city as a plan examiner, then he became an inspector. Then he retired from that and he started his own company, basically helping people navigate the city approval process. Then he went to work for a construction management company after he shut down his own company. So he definitely was a guy who liked to keep busy, he liked to work, and he liked to help people.

As a person, Jesse was just a really kind-hearted man and he liked to be kind and thoughtful and helpful, and he was the kind of guy who didn't go anywhere empty-handed. If he went to my sister's house, he brought flowers, or a cake, or a bottle of wine -- he was just that kind of person. And the first time I met him, he started my car, warmed it up, and cleaned it off for me.

Jesse Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea
Jesse Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea

JG: What were some of his hobbies?

LM: He really loved playing guitar and singing. He loved the Beatles, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead, '60s rock. He also played harmonica. He liked building things. He was always tinkering, and he built this cool table, and different kinds of benches. He really liked riding his bike. He loved playing bags and horseshoes -- he was very competitive. [Laughs.]

Jesse Rodriguez and family members. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea
Jesse Rodriguez and family members. Photo courtesy of Linda Mastandrea

JG: It sounds like he was a really active guy. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about Jesse?

LM: Jesse loved his family and he loved life. He just had a really lighthearted spirit, and he was kind like the Pied Piper with kids. And he was very engaged and active in politics. He was a precinct captain. He loved Chicago and he wanted it to be a better place.

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