The Sophie Allen case highlights the weaknesses in our response to traffic crashes

Photo of Sophie Allen at the vigil.
Photo of Sophie Allen at the vigil.

On Monday I attended the vigil for Sophie Elizabeth Allen. The 27-year-old Orlando, Florida, resident who had recently beat cancer and become engaged to be married, was visiting Chicago earlier this month when a hit-and driver killed her at the intersection of Addison and Fremont streets, near Wrigley Field on Saturday, August 14. The motorist and a passenger fled on foot; No one was in custody as of Friday.

There were around thirty people at the vigil. The event included Sophie’s friends sharing their memories about her and discussing how full of life she was. Sophie was described as vivacious and playful, with a keen, but disarming, sense of humor. Attendees were invited to share ideas for memorializing her.

Attendees at the vigil. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Attendees at the vigil. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

After her friends spoke, attendees were welcome to chat with Sophie’s friends. I shared my condolences with Sophie’s friend Nahiomy Alvarez, who was walking with her the day of the crash and also suffered injuries. Nahiomy’s face bore a bruise and her emotional pain was also evident in her tearful eyes.

Nahiomy and I later met again to discuss her experience. During the vigil it was mentioned that Nahiomy reached out to local alderman Tom Tunney (44th) about getting a tree planted for Sophie. She was told that a tree could not be planted due to zoning restrictions. She was encouraged to reach out to the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. Maureen Martino, executive director of the chamber, was able to acquire a planter in Sophie’s honor. I was saddened but not completely surprised to hear that the alderman’s office was not enthusiastic about finding ways to memorialize Sophie, but I’m grateful someone was moved to find a solution.

A photo of Sophie surrounded by flowers inside the memorial planter. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
A photo of Sophie surrounded by flowers inside the memorial planter. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Nahiomy expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the police and her desire to see a more responsive and empathetic system for victims of traffic crashes. She added that she was “baffled” that, although images of the motorist and a passenger were captured on security footage and other evidence was left at the scene, no one is in custody.

In meeting with Nahiomy, I’m reminded of the need for a rapid response team when it comes to traffic crashes. While ultimately Sophie’s death was caused by a reckless, speeding driver (the motorist was reportedly fleeing after he crashed into a car at a nearby gas station), the intersection where she was killed sees heavy pedestrian traffic due to its close proximity to Wrigley field. In addition, Inter-American Elementary is located just north of the crash site.

A raised crosswalk at Addison/Fremont could be a way to honor Sophie’s life and help to prevent future crashes. A colorful painted intersection treatment and/or “3-D” optical illusion crosswalk art might make a difference as well. The only way to 100% prevent pedestrian and cyclist deaths would be speed governors in cars but it seems unlikely federal or state legislators will mandate them. When I mentioned intersection treatments as a possible way to honor Sophie, Nahiomy was supportive.

Flowers placed around lit candles and a photo of Sophie just feet from where she was killed. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

After talking with Nahiomy, I left wishing it was Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gia Biagi or Illinois Department of Transportation chief Omer Osman meeting with Nahiomy instead, and promising immediate corrections to the intersection where Sophie was killed. I left wishing Chicago’s Vision Zero team included multiple trauma therapists to work with crash victims and/or the loved ones of crash victims. I wish our culture promoted patience, empathy, and care when it came to driving instead of a toxic mentality that drivers come first and sees speeding as normal.

While the driver who struck Sophie and Nahiomy probably didn’t intend to crash into them, the fact that they lack the decency to turn themself in only adds more hurt to an already terrible event. I wish there was more we can immediately offer to traffic crash victims and their families. I wish we were doing more to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the first place. I’m left wondering what it will take for the city of Chicago and Illinois to achieve Vision Zero.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG