More than 50 people gathered at a vigil Friday night to share stories and pay homage to Neill Townsend, a bicyclist who was killed earlier in the day by a truck after he swerved his bike to avoid a car door.
Under a street light just off of Wells and Oak streets, the crowd formed a large circle on the sidewalk and at one point, raised their hands and bike helmets in the air. Some in the group were Townsend's co-workers and friends. Others were bicyclists who never met Townsend but sympathized with his story.
"He was someone who was there for me when not a lot of people were," yelled one man. "He didn't need to go like this."
Townsend, a Kentucky native who came to Chicago for law school, had just celebrated his 32nd birthday, friends said. His favorite color was green because he thought too many people liked blue. He loved reading literature, especially pieces written by Hunter S. Thompson, who was the subject of one of his term papers in graduate school.
The 32-year-old attorney was riding south on Wells Street in front of Walter Payton High School, just north of Oak Street, when the driver of a Nissan Altima swung open the door, police said.
Townsend swerved and fell underneath the wheels of a passing semi that was hauling a flat-bed trailer, police said. The man who opened the door was cited for a traffic violation, according to Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Robert Perez.
Friend and co-worker Brooke Lautz, 30, said Townsend loved to watch soccer and listen to music. He always advised her and others on streets that were bicycle-friendly routes, she said.
Many at the vigil were still shaken by the news, some crying and hugging each other in the cold air. Early on, a few people lit blue and white candles and lay red roses on the ground. A group of two dozen cyclists on a bike ride joined the crowd for a half-hour and rang the bells on the bikes before they left.
John Woo, 31, who organized the bike ride, which was planned before Friday's accident, said some in the cycling community are hesitant to get back on their bikes.
"It's making people rethink a lot of the riding they do," he said. "Just because we're on a bike, doesn’t mean cars care."
Townsend biked to work most days, in all kinds of weather, and almost always had a story to share about a close call on the street.
"He would tell us about them,"’ said Scott Wilson, CEO of Minimal Inc., a product design firm where Townsend worked. "He did have a lot of close calls with cars or even other cyclists. It's not a bike-friendly city, unfortunately."
Townsend lived on the Near North Side and was headed for work at 1032 W. Fulton Market. Wilson said co-workers suspected something was wrong when he didn't show up at a morning meeting at a Starbucks. He had served as head of operations at the design firm for the last two years after joining the company as a consultant.
"He's always on time," Wilson said.
"We were just saying he probably cared more about the company than anything else," Wilson said. "He came out of school, did an internship and he ended up loving it."
Wilson said he had been looking forward to telling Townsend about a recent work trip to Los Angeles. "He always had great ideas," Wilson said. "I'm just glad I got to know him. He will be greatly missed, both as an employee and as a friend.
"He had so much potential."
Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed to this report.
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