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Nearly five children are hit by people driving every day in Illinois while walking or biking within one block of a school.

Death of man cycling hits close to home for Active Trans

Hector Avalos, 28, a former Marine and aspiring chef who worked at El Hefe restaurant in River North was struck and killed at approximately 11:50 p.m. on Friday night along the 2500 block of W. Ogden Avenue.

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Photo of Hector Avalos courtesy of Facebook.

The driver of the vehicle, Robert Vais, 54, an administrator for Stroger Hospital, was taken into custody and charged with felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges after fatally striking Avalos with his van and testing positive for a blood alcohol level of .118 (the legal limit is .08). Avalos was returning home from his shift at work when the crash occurred.

Hector’s death hits close to home for Active Trans because El Hefe, where he worked and was cycling home from, is in the same building as ours. We probably locked our bikes up next to his. And our heart goes out to Hector’s family, friends and coworkers.

According to the Tribune, at the bond hearing on Sunday, Judge James Brown called the death a “tragedy of epic proportions.” But of course every fatal crash on our roadways, regardless of the circumstances, is a tragedy beyond measure for those who have lost their loved ones so suddenly, so unexpectedly and so violently.

We at Active Trans try to stay focused on the improvements and gains that are making it safer for people to walk, to bike and to take public transit, whatever their destination, whatever the nature of their trip, wherever they are going and at whatever time. But sadly, we are routinely faced with these grim reminders of the work that still lies ahead.

Every few days I receive emails from a coworker who monitors our Google News searches using keywords such as “fatal crash,” “bicyclist killed” etc. These articles never convey good news. Almost all have headlines like these:

  • Oak Park man, 91, dies in bike accident
  • Girl, 2, dead after car speeds past stop sign
  • Man killed on birthday by speeding driver
  • Skokie pedestrian, 84, struck and killed
  • Senior citizen run down in hit-and-run in West Rogers Park
  • 11-year-old Harvey girl hit, killed by car
  • Toddler dies after being hit by car on Southwest Side.

I have a folder full of them, over 60 from 2013 alone, many of them senior citizens and children — our most vulnerable populations and those most likely to be walking or biking. And those are just the ones we know of.

I hate that folder. I resent having to open it. I hate reading those articles.

And those are just the fatalities. We almost never hear the stories of the devastating and life-altering injuries sustained from crashes in which someone was seriously injured, but not killed. But we know they are happening. We see the numbers two years after the fact when the Illinois Department of Transportation releases its crash statistics.

We know the positive data too. We know that crash rates are going down. We know bicycle and pedestrian fatalities are going down. And we try to take comfort in that, but it’s challenging when we read the names and see the faces of those who still did not benefit from the safety improvements from last year to this, because we take the work personally.

We are all just people trying to live our lives, get to our jobs, run our errands, go to school, visit our friends, and at the end of the day we all want to get back home safely, no matter how we are getting around. Everyone is entitled to that, and Hector was robbed of that right along with his life.

We take the privilege of driving for granted, but it is a privilege, and one that can and should be revoked for offenses like drinking and driving, especially when it results in a death.

Please don’t drink and drive. Take a train or bus or just walk. Call a cab or a friend — anything to avoid taking another life and ruining your own. There have been too many tragedies already.

For more information about what you can do to prevent drunk driving in Illinois, please visit the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.