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Bike Crashes

Over a month after a driver fatally struck Donald Heggemann on bike, fled, and failed DUI test, felony charges filed

Physically protected bike lanes, which are becoming more common in our city, might have prevented Heggemann's tragic death.

Donald Heggemann. Image: Facebook

Update 12/2/23, 9:15 PM: "I am grateful that there was a diligence in making sure charges were filed given the loss of life due to reckless driving," commented local Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th). "We are looking to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians around Damen and Winnemac as well as raising up the need for speed cameras with the Johnson administration."

Update12/2/23, 9:45 AM: More than a month after Donald Heggemann was killed, the driver has been charged. According to a Chicago Police Department spokesperson, Kali Rynearson, 30, a resident of the North Center neighborhood, has been charged with one felony count of aggravated DUI resulting in a death. She also received three citations for disregarding a stop sign, plus three tickets for failure to reduce speed, disobeying a traffic control device, and open container. Rynearson will appear in a detention hearing today.

Update 10/26/23, 9:45 AM: ABC7 Chicago reported that the driver who killed Donald Heggemann on his bike, fled the scene, and failed a Breathalyzer was recently released without charges.

A Police News Affairs spokesperson confirmed this information to Streetsblog. "The individual has been released without charging. The investigation is ongoing." 

Update 10/25/23, 1:00 PM: Last night the Chicago Sun-Times published the crash victim's identity, Donald Heggemann, a ceramicist who worked at Northeastern Illinois University, after interviewing friends and coworkers. We've updated our article accordingly.

Dubhe Carreño, a friend of Heggemann's who taught ceramics at NEIU, told the Sun-Times Heggemann, who went by "Don," worked full-time as an administrative assistant at the university's art and design department. "He was a joy to know as an artist, as a co-worker, as a friend."

Kim Ambriz, art and design department chair at NEUI told the Sun-Times Heggemann was an "amazing" front desk administer who was highly organized, but also excellent at making visitors to the office feel welcome. In addition to office work, he assisted with ceramics at the university, including 10-12-hour-long ceramic firings.

Ambriz also told the paper that Heggemann commuted to work by bike on a daily basis, and shared camaraderie with an art history professor who also did so. "They were always talking about biking."

Read more about Heggemann's life, and comments from Bike Lane Uprising's Christina Whitehouse on the case, in the Sun-Times piece.

The crash location on Damen, across the street from Amundsen High School, looking north towards Foster, as it appeared in July 2018. Image: Google Maps

Update 10/24/23, 7:45 PM: According to a Block Club Chicago report, local alderperson Andre Vasquez (50th) mentioned the latest bike fatality in an email to constituents. "This is a devastating loss for our community," he wrote. "Everyone deserves safe streets, and our office is committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to protect bicyclists and pedestrians in our ward.”

Sadly, last night an allegedly intoxicated driver fatally struck ceramicist Donald Heggemann, 59, riding a bike in a paint-only lane near Foster (5200 N.) and Damen (2000 W.) avenues. The location is near to Winnemac Park and Amundsen High in the Lincoln Square community area. This was at least the third cycling fatality within 14 years on a three-mile stretch of Damen with non-protected bikeways.

According to the initial police report, at about 7:54 p.m. on Monday, October 23, a driver was heading northbound on the 5100 block of North Damen when they hit Heggemann, who was also traveling northbound, at 5115 North. The victim sustained injuries to his head and body, and was taken to Illinois Masonic hospital in critical condition, and later pronounced dead.

Image of the collision from the crash report.

The traffic crash report says the motorist, described as the 30-year-old female driver of 2015 Volvo S60 sedan, fled the collision scene. The crash report also states that the motorist appeared to be intoxicated.

According to the narrative on the report, police officers were flagged down by witnesses who explained that the driver had continued north on Damen after striking Heggemann in the bike lane. Four witnesses are listed on the report. Officers were then able to detain the motorist.

The crash location at 5115 N. Damen Ave., looking south, as it appeared Wednesday afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

The crash report says Heggemann lived about two miles northeast of the crash site in the Edgewater neighborhood. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 8:32 p.m.

According to the crash report, the driver, who lives about two miles southwest of the collision site in the North Park community, consented to a Breathalyzer test. It found that she had a 0.20 percent blood alcohol level, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. She was then taken to Weiss Memorial Hospital for blood and urine analysis, which she refused. After that, she was transported to Area 3 Detective Division for additional processing.

Around noon today, a Police News Affairs spokesperson said, "Charges are pending."

"Ghost bike" memorials for Liza Whitacre, 20, and Anastashia Kondrasheva, 23, on Damen south of last night's crash site. Image: John Greenfield

Tragically, there have been at least two other bike fatalities on Damen within three miles of this latest case within the past 14 years. In October 2009, 20-year-old Loyola University student and coffee shop worker Liza Whitacre, 20, was cycling on Damen at Wellington Avenue (3000 N.), next to Hamlin Park, when she was struck and killed by a truck driver.

In September 2016, health coach Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, was biking to work on Damen when a flatbed truck driver failed to yield while making a right turn onto Addison Street (3600 N.) and fatally struck her.

Locations where drivers have fatally struck people biking on Damen north of Diversey during the last 14 years. Image: Google Maps

Damen Avenue, a two-lane street, is a popular bike route, but it's also a hectic driving street. Fortunately, the Chicago Department of Transportation, with the support of local alderpersons, recently built a Neighborhood Greenway on Leavitt Street (2200 W.) two blocks west of Damen. That route runs between Diversey Parkway (2800 N.) and Montrose Avenue (4400 N.), a relatively calm side street with stoplights or four-way stops at all major intersections. The greenway includes new contraflow bike lanes to legalize southbound cycling, plus bike-friendly speed humps. It will eventually run up to Berwyn Avenue (5300 W.)

But this third killing of a bike rider on Damen suggests that this frequently ridden north-south route needs safety upgrades as well. Physically protected bike lanes, which are becoming more common in our city, might have prevented Donald Heggemann's tragic death.

Streetsblog Chicago Fatality Tracker

Pedestrian: 25

Bicyclist: 4

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.

2023 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases

2023 Chicago bike fatalities

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