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Jose Velásquez, 16, is the latest bike rider killed by a turning trucker who failed to yield

Jose Velásquez. Image via Chicago Fixes

Update 12/15/21, 2:15 PM: The victim of Friday's collision has been identified by the Cook County medical examiner's office as Jose Velásquez, 16, of the 5300 block of South Paulina Street, about 1.5 miles south of the crash site. A GoFundMe page launched to help cover expenses has raised over $14,500. A message on the page states that Jose was on his way home from school at Benito Juárez Community Academy when he was killed, and describes him as a vivacious person who loved learning. This article has been edited accordingly.

With the death of Jose Velásquez, 16, in Back of the Yards Friday morning, yet another young life has tragically been cut short in Chicago by a truck driver who made a right turn without yielding to a person biking.

According to Police News Affairs, on Friday, December 10, at about 10:20 a.m., the truck driver was traveling south on 4000 block of South Ashland Avenue and made a right turn into a driveway, striking Velásquez, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The trucker was cited for failure to yield.

The 4000 block of South Ashland, looking south towards the driveway of the Norfolk Southern rail yard. Image: Google Maps
The 4000 block of South Ashland, looking south towards the driveway of the Norfolk Southern rail yard. Image: Google Maps
The 4000 block of South Ashland, looking south towards the driveway of the Norfolk Southern rail yard. Image: Google Maps

The police crash report includes additional information on the incident. It states that the truck driver, a 33-year-old man who lives in southwest-suburban Montgomery and was operating a truck owned by Global Rental Co., told responding officers he was driving to the Norfolk Southern rail yard at 4008 South Ashland to park his vehicle. As he turned right into the driveway, "he heard a thump and felt a bump coming from the rear" of the truck. The driver said he stopped and looked back via a side mirror and saw a black bicycle and what appeared to be a person's body, and immediately exited the vehicle and walked towards the person lying in the driveway, saw that he was injured, and called 911.

The report states that after police arrived and the victim was pronounced dead, "the driver complied [with] all the required chemical test[s]." His truck was towed to a police pound for investigation, and he was taken to Mercy Hospital for DUI testing. However, police were told by hospital staff that the hospital lost its contract with the city and is not currently stocking DUI tests, and they released the trucker, who left the hospital with his supervisor.

The diagram of the crash on the report indicates that Velásquez was biking on the sidewalk and was crossing the driveway when he was struck. If that was the case, while it's illegal for people 12 or older to bike on the sidewalk in Chicago, riding on the sidewalk in this location would have been an understandable choice, since this stretch of Ashland has four lanes and high-speed traffic, including many trucks, and no bikeways. The nearest parallel street with bike lanes in this part of town is Halsted Street, a mile east of Ashland.

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

Bike Lane Uprising, an organization that documents bike lane obstructions, noted on Twitter that the local fixed-gear Instagram account Chicago Fixies is planning a memorial for Velásquez on Saturday, December 18, at 4:45 p.m. at the Damen Avenue plaza of The 606 elevated greenway, 1775 North Damen. The plaza is a popular gathering spot for young fixed-gear riders. Attendees are asked to bring flowers, candles, and balloons. BLU arranged for a white-painted "ghost bike" memorial to be created. "It truly hurts to know you're gone," reads a post from Chicago Fixies. "It hurts to know you passed while doing something you loved."

Instagram post by Chicago Fixies.
Instagram post by Chicago Fixies.
Instagram post by Chicago Fixies.

The victim was at least the sixth person on a bike struck and killed by a turning trucker in Chicago since summer 2016. The other cases include:

    • Virginia Murray, 25, fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver in Avondale in July 2016
    • Lisa Kuivinen, 20, struck and killed by a flatbed truck driver in River West in August 2016
    • Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver in Lakeview in September 2016
    • Angela Park, 39, struck and killed by a dump truck driver in Greektown in August 2018
    • Carla Aiello, 37, fatally struck by a dump truck driver in the Irving Park community in November 2019

In the wake of the three 2016 crashes, in July 2017 Chicago’s City Council passed an ordinance requiring that any business with a city contract worth $2 million or more install side guards — hardware that helps prevent pedestrians and cyclists from going under the wheels — and convex mirrors on all trucks used to fulfill the contract that weigh 10,000 pounds or more. The Council also earmark $5 million for retrofitting 1,700 city vehicles with the safety gear.

In June 2020, the right-turning driver of a Chicago Department of Transportation struck a CDOT SAFE (Streets Are For Everybody) Ambassador on her bike in Avondale. While the woman was hospitalized in serious condition, she was able to return home the next day, possibly in part due to the fact the truck had side guards and convex mirrors.

It's not yet clear whether or not the truck from this latest crash had side guards or convex mirrors. But if this kind of safety gear was mandated on all large trucks, more of these kinds of tragedies could be averted.

I am not exaggerating when I say my convex mirror bill is in my top five bills in terms of the vitriol & hyperbole I faced from opponents. And I say that as a veteran of gun control, repro rights, marriage equality, & criminal justice reform bills.

— Rep. Kelly Cassidy (@RepKellyCassidy) December 13, 2021

In the past, resistance from the trucking industry has been be a barrier to passing such legislation in Illinois. In 2012 the Active Transportation Alliance lobbied for a statewide law, sponsored by state representative Kelly Cassidy, requiring convex mirrors for the front of all large Illinois-licensed trucks. However, the Illinois Trucking Association balked at the $500-per-vehicle cost, and testified against the bill, and the legislation died in committee.

Chicago bike fatality numbers from the past decade. Chart: CDOT
Chicago bike fatality numbers from the past decade. There were four deaths in 2019 and nine in 2020. Chart: CDOT
Chicago bike fatality numbers from the past decade. Chart: CDOT

Velásquez was the tenth person fatally struck by a driver while biking on Chicago streets this year. That's the most bike fatalities in our city since at least 2011. The previous recent record was nine bike fatalities in 2020. (There were four fatalities in 2019, not shown on the chart above.) The increase in bike deaths may be partly attributable to increased bicycling during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as more speeding by drivers during the crisis.

Fatality Tracker: 2021 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 22
Bicyclist: 10

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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