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Friday, December 7, 2012

Robin Essay: Fatal Bike Crash Hits Home

A makeshift memorial has been set up on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and St. Paul Street in Boston. (Chris Ballman/WBUR)

Yesterday at 8:30 in the morning at the intersection of St. Paul Street and Commonwealth Avenue right below our offices, just across the street from the Boston University Campus, 23-year-old BU student Christopher Weigl was riding his bike when he collided with a tractor trailer and was killed.

Just like that.

Christopher Weigl (Student profile screenshot)

We learned later that he was a grad student in photojournalism. Just like my nephew studying journalism at Northeastern, he’d been given the assignment of writing his own obituary. I hated when my nephew did it; today I devoured every word of Christopher’s obituary in Brian McGrory’s column in The Boston Globe.

The intersection is one of the busiest of the many along Comm Ave., which runs the length of the BU campus straight to Fenway Park a few blocks away, and the heart of Boston beyond.

On our side, parked cars, then the bike lane, then two lanes of eastbound traffic, two sets of train tracks — tracks for incoming and outgoing T trains. On the other side it repeats, two more lanes of westbound traffic, a bike lane and parked cars.

There are always swarms of people on our side, packs of students running into the CVS, or dashing across the street to make the train, or to grab food at Panera or Boston House of Pizza, dodging cars and the many cyclists who at that point on Comm Ave. can catch a little hill and sail past. It’s actually a lovely view of Boston in the distance.

The 16-wheeler had moved left to make the right hand turn across the bike lane. I’m sure we’ll learn what happened. Those who were there said the truck driver was devastated. Meanwhile, many of our colleagues just walking in to work, were sickened by what they saw. Karl tried to shield Candy; she says she kept saying “Is he alone?? Is someone with him??” And Karl would say, “Candy, he’s already gone.” And she would say. “I know. Is he alone? Is somebody with him??”

Then later there would be the sneakers peeking out from under a white sheet. For hours. We know these sheets appear all too often in violent neighborhoods, a terrible thing, and we know about the huge number of bicycle deaths. Another BU student was killed at another intersection earlier this fall. Awful. I had a college friend recently killed in Florida by a distracted driver. But this was in our neighborhood. A dark cloud that rolled up from the street into our offices and settled in our stomachs and hearts.

At 1 p.m. we still weren’t allowed to come out of our building and turn right, we had to turn left and walk around the block to get lunch. I mention this not because of any inconvenience, about which, who cares. But because it was confronting again the thing that we hadn’t been able to shake all day, that a young person’s life had come to a sudden and absolutely irreversible halt. And he lay there, as we worked, as insurance agents came and set up video cameras and police directed traffic. Shouldn’t we have stopped everything out of respect? Shouldn’t we, as Candy suggested, have been with him?

A ghost bike was set up Monday morning at the scene of last week's fatal accident. (Kathleen McKenna, Here & Now)

A ghost bike was set up Monday morning at the scene of last week’s fatal accident. (Kathleen McKenna, Here & Now)

I have nothing profound to say. But I did want his family to know that, while it might have looked like life was going on, as we worked on our show, and dashed to and fro, there were stolen moments in the bathroom to shed a tear, there was a constant feeling of unease.

We were mourning a member of our community.

A young person we might even have seen at some point, sailing down Commonwealth Avenue. Into his future. With a beautiful view.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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