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SUV driver killed Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas as he rode a scooter in Lincoln Square

1:42 PM CDT on June 5, 2022

Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas. Photo: GoFundMe

Content warning: This piece includes a witness' account of the death of a child.

Update 6/6/22, 10:30 PM: Streetsblog shared the crash report with attorneys from FK Law and Keating Law Offices, two pedestrian- and bike-focused personal injury firms (which both sponsor this site.)

FK Law's Brendan Kevenides argued that, despite the driver's comments to responding officers that "she made sure there were no pedestrians before she proceeded through the intersection," it’s clear the motorist "could not possibly have been paying attention." Kevenides added that "the messed-up police report that contradicts itself is not unusual… They should get the driver’s cell phone record to learn if that was a potential source of her distraction."

Michael Keating from Keating Law Offices agreed that the driver should be held responsible for the tragedy. "First, the driver did stop for a pedestrian/cyclist in the cross walk. Second, the driver did not keep a proper lookout. Third, there is a Chicago ordinance requiring drivers to additionally use due care around children. Scenarios like this are the exact reason the ordinance exists."

Here's the ordinance:

9-40-160 Drivers to exercise due care.
"Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle or other device propelled by human or animal power, upon any roadway, and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precautions upon observing any child [emphasis added] or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway." (Added Coun. J. 7-12-90, p. 18634; Amend Coun. J. 3-12-08, p. 22781, § 1)

Update 6/5/22, 3:15 PM: Streetsblog originally reported that the driver who fatally struck Raphael "Rafi" Cardenas, 2, was heading north on Leavitt Street, based on a statement from Police News Affairs that the child was "riding a mini scooter from one side of Levitt to the other," i.e. crossing east-west, when he was hit. New information indicates that the initial CPD statement was inaccurate.

Since then we have since acquired the traffic crash report. The narrative on the document also says the driver told a responding officer that Rafi "was trying to cross from one side of Leavitt to the other and got struck."

However, the diagram on the crash report shows the child crossing Eastwood Avenue in the crosswalk in the west leg of the intersection, which contradicts the statement from News Affairs and the report's narrative. The diagram also shows the driver heading west on Eastwood, which is the direction the driver reportedly told the responding officers she was traveling. 

Diagram from the crash report showing the westbound driver striking the child in the west crosswalk. A third-party witness told Streetsblog this is an accurate depiction of what happened.
Diagram from the crash report showing the westbound driver striking the child in the west crosswalk. A third-party witness told Streetsblog this is an accurate depiction of what happened.

Here's the relevant portion of the narrative from the crash report, which, again, contains contradictory statements that Rafi was crossing east-west when he was struck by the westbound driver:

Responding officers spoke with the driver... who related that she was traveling westbound on Eastwood when she stopped at the intersection of Leavitt and Eastwood due to a stop sign. The driver further related that she made sure there were no pedestrians before she proceeded through the intersection. While driving through the intersection, a small child on a mini scooter was trying to cross from one side of Leavitt to the other and got struck [by the driver.] A [third-party] witness on the scene who observed the [crash] related similar information to the responding officers as the driver.

The witness, a 37-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood, told Streetsblog that Rafi was heading south on the west sidewalk of Leavitt before he was struck by the driver, who was heading west towards Lincoln Avenue. However, the witness said he didn't see whether the driver checked for pedestrians before proceeding through the intersection.

The witness said he was walking north on the west sidewalk of Leavitt, north of Eastwood, when Rafi passed him on the sidewalk heading south towards Eastwood, with his father Henry Cardenas nearby. "I noticed him scootering towards the intersection and it occurred to me he needed to slow down and stop. His dad was telling him to stop. I think I sensed the urgency in his dad and so I turned my head to see what was going on, and as I did I saw the collision."

"His dad screamed in a way that was absolutely haunting, and I think he pulled his son out from under the car," the witness said. "While that was happening, I had called 911."

The Eastwood/Leavitt intersection, looking west. According to the witness, Rafi had entered the intersection from the northwest corner when the driver struck him. Image: Google Maps
The Eastwood/Leavitt intersection, looking west. According to the witness, Rafi had entered the intersection from the northwest corner when the driver struck him. Image: Google Maps

Since the driver struck Rafi at the opposite side of the intersection from where she entered it, contrary to what Streetsblog previously reported based on the inaccurate info from CPD, it does not appear that poor sight lines due to cars parked near a crosswalk played a role in the crash. The witness confirmed that did not seem to be a factor. The article below has been edited accordingly.

Tragically, on Thursday, June 2, an SUV driver struck and killed 2-year-old Raphael "Rafi" Cardenas at Eastwood Avenue (4630 N.) and Leavitt Street (2200 W.) in Lincoln Square as the toddler rode a mini scooter into the intersection.

According to police, at about 5:55 p.m., Rafi was riding a scooter on a sidewalk when he entered the intersection. A third-party witness told Streetsblog the boy was riding south on the west sidewalk of Leavitt when he began to cross Eastwood.

Police said a woman, 24, was driving a 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse crossover SUV when she hit Rafi in the street. The witness said the motorist was heading west on Eastwood at the time and struck the child in the west leg of the intersection.

The child, who lived on Leavitt about half a mile north of the crash site, was transported to Lurie Children's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. According to the Cook County medical examiner's office, the boy died from multiple blunt-force injuries.

Roses and a Teddy beae left at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield
Roses and a Teddy bear left at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

The driver has not been cited, police said. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

According to an online obituary, memorials in Raphael's name may made to Lurie Children’s Hospital at www.giveluriechildrens.org.

A member of our CTU family lost a son in a tragic accident yesterday. Condolences to their entire family and school community.There are few words for heartbreak like this. Please share and support. https://t.co/M6nl3cUe8O

— ChicagoTeachersUnion (@CTULocal1) June 4, 2022

Tamara Ahmed, a Chicago Public Schools coworker of Raphael's father Henry Cardenas, launched a GoFundMe page to support the family, which has raised more than $20,000. "Our school community mourns with them," Ahmed wrote. "I’ve seen the outpouring of love in the Lincoln Square community as well and neighbors are wondering how to help... Please lift this family up in prayer as they deal with this unimaginable loss."

There are no speed humps on Eastwood. Unfortunately, in Chicago, speed humps are not installed on residential streets unless more than half of residents on the block sign a petition in support of the traffic calming measure. Police have not disclosed whether they believe speeding may have been a factor in the crash.

A 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse crossover SUV.
A 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse crossover SUV.

The fact that the driver was in an SUV may have reduced Rafi's chances of surviving the crash. SUV designs tend to push crash victims under the vehicle, where they are crushed, instead of over the hood.

According to the traffic crash report narrative, the driver told responding officers she checked for pedestrians before proceeding through the intersection, which has stop signs in both directions. However, that claim was not corroborated by independent witnesses. Since Leavitt is one-way northbound, it may have actually been the case that she looked left for motorists entering the intersection from the south, but failed to look right for pedestrians coming from the the north.

A family using the Leland Avenue Slow Street in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield
A family using the Leland Avenue Slow Street, a treatment which calmed traffic and made it safe for children to bike and scoot in the street, located half a block north of Eastwood, in Lincoln Square in 2020. Photo: John Greenfield

"We lost a toddler in Lincoln Square yesterday," wrote nearby resident Carl Beien in a post on a local sustainable transportation Facebook discussion group. "He was doing a toddler thing – scooting into the street without looking. As a society, we can’t kill toddlers for being toddlers – we need to design our streets so that these deaths don’t happen."

"I wrote to my local elected leaders, reminding them that this is preventable," Beien added. "I’ve badgered all of them since they were elected about safe streets, how the poor design predictably leads to deaths. I’m so mad. We need more advocacy. We need more protest. More kids are going to die if we don’t."

Beien told Streetsblog he feels local alderperson Matt Martin (47th) has been very proactive about asking CDOT for pedestrian and bike safety infrastructure improvements in the ward. But Beien added that Rafi's death "should serve as a call to action that even the most enlightened leaders cannot save our children by themselves – we need comprehensive strategy and leadership from the city, and that they should, with bitter irony, look to the 47th Ward as [an example.]"

Fatality Tracker: 2022 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 14
Bicyclist: 3

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.

2022 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases

2022 Chicago bike fatality cases

    • On May 4, 2022, a Nissan Versa sedan driver fatally struck Nick Parlingayan, 22, on his bike at Milwaukee and Kilbourn avenues in Irving Park.
    • On April 16, 2022, an allegedly intoxicated hit-and-run Volkswagen Jetta driver fatally struck Paresh Chhatrala, 42, near Madison and Peoria streets in the West Loop.
    • On February 28, 2022, a BMW sedan driver ran a red light at Balbo Drive and DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Loop, fatally striking Gerardo Marciales, 41, on a Divvy bike.

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