A witness discusses how a negligent postal worker killed Joshua Avina, 15, on his bike
Content warning: This post describes a fatal injury crash involving a child.
Update 7/11/22, 11:45 AM: Joshua Avina-Luna’s mother Fabiola Luna has retained the bike-and-pedestrian-focused law firm Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor.) Fabiola provided the following statement: “Joshua was such a support for me. My right hand. He helped me out with his sisters for everything. He said he felt like a father figure for them because it was always him and me with both girls while their father worked all day.”
Many Chicago traffic safety advocates, and residents in general, were overwhelmed by grief and rage over the preventable crash deaths of four Chicago children on foot, scooter, and bike last month:
- On June 2, an SUV driver struck and killed 2-year-old Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas at Eastwood Avenue and Leavitt Street in Lincoln Square as the toddler rode a mini-scooter into the intersection.
- On June 9, a semi truck driver ran over and killed Elizabeth “Lily” Grace Shambrook, 3, riding in a child seat on the back of her mother’s bike at Leland and Winthrop avenues in Uptown. A ComEd truck driver contributed to the crash by illegally parking in a bike lane.
- On June 16, 2022, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed a Ja’lon James, 11, as he crossed the street in the 3300 block of West 16th Street in North Lawndale.
- On June 24, 2022, a postal van driver fatally struck Joshua Avina-Luna, 15, near 62nd Street and Austin Avenue in Clearing neighborhood.
Compounding the trauma and injustice is that none of the motorists involved have yet seen any serious legal consequences yet for their role in the death of a child.
Streetsblog Chicago recently acquired the traffic crash report for the Avina-Luna case, which provides more details about what reportedly happened.
According to the narrative on the crash report, at about 4 p.m. last Friday, Joshua was biking eastbound in an alley located on the north side of a Wallgreens drug store at the northwest corner of 63rd Street and Austin Avenue (6000 W.) The alley connects with Nathan Hale park, about three blocks west of the crash site, and the teen lived about a mile northeast of the crash site.
The narrative says Joshua came out of the alley to cross Austin Avenue at a location “where there are no traffic control devices and where [alley traffic] must yield to motor vehicle traffic” on Austin. That’s when the southbound driver of a 2017 Dodge Ram ProMaster cargo van owned by the United States Postal Service “did not see” Joshua and struck him, the report states.
While it’s true that people exiting alleys are supposed to yield to traffic on main streets, the postal worker, who lives in suburban Woodridge, had a legal responsibility to keep a lookout for people entering the road, especially kids. According to Chicago ordinance 9-40-160: “Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle… and shall exercise proper precautions upon observing any child… upon a roadway.” As such, police should have ticketed the driver for failure to exercise due care.
However, police did cite the postal worker for failure to reduce speed to prevent a crash. Notably, the incident took place in the 13th Ward, and local alderperson Marty Quinn voted last week in committee to allow drivers to speed by up to 9 mph without risk of speed camera tickets.
Joshua was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn in critical condition with head injuries, abrasions, and bruising to the upper body, according to the traffic crash report. He was pronounced dead on Monday afternoon, per the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The traffic crash report says a man who witnessed the collision told responding officers that “neither party saw each other before impact.”
The narrative states that the responding officers did not observe any indications that the postal worker was impaired. But due to the life-threatening injuries to Joshua and per the Major Accidents Investigation Unit’s feedback, the police requested blood and urine samples from the driver, who consented to testing. He tested negative for alcohol or drugs.
Streetsblog contacted the witness, who said he was waiting in a line of cars in the Walgreens drive-through when he observed Joshua sitting on the guardrail at the north side of the Walgreens property with a red mountain bike, looking at his phone, for about three minutes. “Then the kid decided to leave, and I saw him go through.”
The witness said that when he saw Joshua and the postal worker were on a collision course, “I thought, ‘I hope you make it.'” At first the witness thought Joshua cleared the van safely, “But then I was like, ‘Oh my God, he didn’t make it.'”
The witness said people gathered around Joshua, who had a wound on the back of his head and was unconscious and breathing with difficulty. A nurse moved the boy’s body to assist with airflow. Someone called 911, and the witness said he took the teen’s phone in an effort to call his parents, but the device was password-protected. The fire department and an ambulance arrived within ten minutes.
Streetsblog asked representatives of the bike-focused firms FK Law and Keating law-offices, which sponsor the site, for their thoughts on the case.
“The driver should have anticipated the likelihood that a person on a bicycle could emerge from a driveway or alley at any time,” attorney Brendan Kevenides of FK Law said. “He should have moderated his speed accordingly and played close attention to his surroundings to be ready to brake. It’s basic driver’s education stuff. This is a tragedy that could have and should have been avoided.”
“There is no note in the report as to how/why they assessed that the driver of the USPS vehicle was speeding,” said Micheal Keating of Keating Law Offices. “This could be an assessment that the driver of the USPS vehicle was driving too fast for the busy area under the circumstances existing at that time… This is yet another tragic example of one of Chicago’s children not being able to ride safely in the city’s streets.”