Sam D. Yousif, 13, killed by negligent driver at unsafe bike crossing near N. Branch Trail

Memorial to Sam Yousif at the crash site. Photo: Igor Studenkov
Memorial to Sam Yousif at the crash site. Photo: Igor Studenkov

Update 8/25/20, 1:45 PM: The Niles Police Department provided the following update on the case. “On August 18, 2020 the Niles Department was notified by MCAT (Major Crash Assistance Team) Investigators that their investigation had concluded.  A report was then generated and tendered to Niles Detectives.  After reviewing the MCAT report, it was determined that charges were not recommended against the driver of the motor vehicle that collided with the bicyclist.  Niles Detectives will be closing this case subsequent to the MCAT findings and recommendations.”

Update 7/19/20 2:45 PM: The Chicago Tribune report on the case by Jennifer Johnson has been updated with additional biographical info about Sam D. Yousif.

Culver School principal Erica Smolinski described Yousif to the Tribune as a “joyful, sincere and warm student… Sam’s contagious smile brought joy to the world,” she said. “He was everyone’s cheerleader and a beloved student who touched many lives.”

“Sam loved acting, singing, and performing,” assistant principal Oscar Suarez told the Tribune. “He held the role of Aladdin Jr. in Culver’s last spring musical. He loved to read and was a summer reading volunteer at the Niles Public Library. His acts of kindness, like getting to school an hour early on Valentine’s Day to place a note on everyone’s locker, will forever be remembered.”

According to the Cook County medical examiner’s officer, Yousif lived Yousif on the 7900 block of North Nordica Avenue in Niles, about a mile southeast of the crash site and a block west of the North Branch Trail.

Sam D. Yousif. Photo: Culver School
Sam D. Yousif. Photo: Culver School

Reading the Chicago Sun-Times report on the death of Sam D. Yousif, 13, who was fatally struck on his bike by a pickup truck driver in north-suburban Niles yesterday afternoon, you’d be left with the impression that it was tragic case, but one where a boy who was riding recklessly caused his own death. However, a quick look at the geography of the intersection shows there was more to the story. Inattentive driving by a teenage motorist and unsafe bike infrastructure appear to have been major factors in the crash.

According to the Niles police department, at about 2:40 p.m. on Thursday, July 16, authorities responded to the crash at Cleveland Street and Waukegan Road. Police said the 18-year-old driver of a 2014 a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck was traveling northbound on Waukegan when he struck Yousif, who was riding west on Cleveland across Waukegan.

Yousif was transported to Lutheran General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:45 p.m.

The driver remained at the scene and was not judged to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to police.

Yousif's bike at the crash site. Photo: Jennifer Johnson / Pioneer Press
Yousif’s bike at the crash site. Photo: Jennifer Johnson, Pioneer Press

“At this time, no citations have been issued, as this investigation is still ongoing,” said Niles Police spokesman Commander Tony Scipione III told Streetsblog. “We will be waiting for the investigations report by our Major Crash Investigations Reconstructionist Team to be completed before we make our final decision to issue citations or not.”

The Sun-Times report contained the statement, “Witnesses told authorities the boy was crossing Waukegan Road at Cleveland Avenue when he rode directly in front of [the driver], police said.” That implies that the case is clear-cut: Yousif appeared in front of the driver without warning, so the motorist couldn’t have been expected to hit the brakes in time to avert the tragedy, and shouldn’t be held responsible.

Two signs warned the driver to watch out for vulnerable road users. Image: Google Maps
Looking north on Waukegan at Cleveland. Two signs warned the driver to watch out for vulnerable road users. Image: Google Maps

However, if the news outlet had bothered to look at a Google Street View of the intersection, they would have seen that the driver, who was only five years older than the victim, was warned to watch out for vulnerable road users by two signs. The intersection, which has crosswalks at all intersections, has both white “Yield Here to Pedestrians” signs and yellow “School Crossing” signs.

A look at Google Maps would have also shown the Sun-Times that this stretch of Cleveland is a designated bike route. A trailhead for the popular North Branch Trail is located about a half-mile east of the crash site, so Yousif may have been coming from the path after taking a car-free bike ride.

Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 2.34.14 PM
Image: Google Maps

Google Maps also shows that at the Cleveland/Waukegan intersection, there are “sharrows,” bike-and-chevron symbols used to designate a bike route, marked in green boxes on the pavement, as seen in the top photo of this article. However, while Cleveland, a two-lane street, is itself a decent place to ride, this is not a safe crossing. Cleveland has a stop sign at Waukegan, but drivers on Waukegan, a relatively busy state route with a 35 mph speed limit, plus a wide four-lane layout that encourages speeding, does not. This bikeway design puts the onus on cyclists to essentially play “Frogger,” dodging four lanes of unsignalized traffic, if they want to access the bike trail.

Sharows on Cleveland Avenue in Niles direct cyclists to cross four-lane Waukegan Road, which has no stop signs, to get to the nearby North Branch Trail. Image: Google Mpas
Sharows on Cleveland Avenue in Niles direct cyclists to cross four-lane Waukegan Road, which has no stop signs, to get to the nearby North Branch Trail. Image: Google Mpas

Unlike the Sun-Times, local bike-focused attorney Mike Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) did check out the Street Views and reached similar conclusions as we did. “The intersection of Waukegan Road and Cleveland Avenue was marked for drivers to yield. As Illinois law provides that bicyclists will have the rights of a pedestrian in these circumstances, a driver should yield to the bicyclist. In fact, the Illinois Rules of the Road clearly state that a motorist must use due care around children and bicyclists.”

Keating also pointed out on Twitter that this is the second time in recent weeks that a child has been killed while trying to cross Waukegan Road. On June 2 a driver fatally struck five-year-old Jacob Pikosky on the 700 block of Waukegan in Glennview, three miles north of the Yousif crash site.

According to a Chicago Tribune report by Jennifer Johnson, Yousif recently completed seventh-grader at nearby Culver School. A memorial left at the crash site included a Culver Bulldogs sweatshirt, flowers, candles, a note, and a soccer ball.

This case is only the latest in a series of tragic deaths of vulnerable road users in Niles. For example, in winter of 2018-2019, four pedestrian over age 60 were killed by drivers within the village. The Niles Police Department initially responded to the wave of traffic violence by posting signs in bus shelters near dangerous intersections that largely put the onus for safety on people walking. Incredibly, months later in June 2019 the Niles police literally ticketed a four-year-old boy after a driver struck him.

Yousif was at least the third young teen fatally struck on a bike in the Chicago area within the last month. On June 19 a driver fatally struck Evan Melau, 15, in southwest-suburban Woodridge. And on June 29 a hit-and-run motorist struck and killed Issac Martinez, 13, in the Ashburn neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

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