Blaine Klingenberg Credit: Jonathan Loïc Rogers

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on Tuesday on behalf of the father of bike courier Blaine Klingenberg, who was fatally struck by a double-decker tour bus at Michigan and Oak during the evening rush on June 15. The suit names bus driver Charla Henry and her employer, Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company. 

According to friends of Klingenberg, he was on his way to meet up with colleagues at Oak Street Beach after work when the collision occurred. He was bicycling north on Michigan through the intersection when he was struck and dragged by the westbound bus. Klingenberg was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

The Chicago Police Department crash report laid the blame on Klingenberg, stating, “The victim disregarded the light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the collision.” Henry has not been issued traffic citations or charged with a crime. But in exclusive interviews with the Reader, two witnesses said they were convinced the bus driver was at least partly responsible for the messenger’s death because she also entered the intersection after her light turned red.

The wrongful death suit was filed in the Cook County circuit court by the bike-focused personal injury firm FK Law (a sponsor of Streetsblog Chicago, which I edit). Klingenberg’s father, Walter Klingenberg, is named as the plaintiff. The document claims that Henry was guilty of one or more of the following acts and/or omissions:

  • “Disobeyed a solid red indication on a traffic signal”
  • “Failed to exercise that degree of care and caution that a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have exercised in the operation of the [double-decker] bus”
  • “Failed to keep an adequate lookout”
  • “Drove the . . . bus at a speed that was greater than was reasonable given the traffic conditions and the use of the highway”
  • “Failed to avoid hitting a bicyclist”
  • “Was otherwise careless or negligent in the operation of the … bus”
A memorial to Klingenberg at the crash site at Michigan and Oak.
A memorial to Klingenberg at the crash site at Michigan and Oak.Credit: John Greenfield

The suit argues that, in addition to being fatally injured, Klingenberg “suffered great pain and anguish, both in mind and body prior to his death.”

It also argues that Walter Klingenberg as well as Blaine’s mother, Beverly Klein, brother Corey Klingenberg, and sister Kendal Klingenberg have suffered the loss of Blaine’s “company and society.”

The suit seeks a minimum of $50,000 in damages, the minimum required to get a case into the circuit court’s Law Division. However, FK Law attorney Brendan Kevenides believes the final figure will likely be much higher. “We’re looking for an amount commensurate with the enormous loss felt by the family,” he says.

“At this point, much of the evidence points to the driver having entered the intersection on a red light,” Kevenides adds.

Chicago police detectives have reviewed video of the crash taken from an Office of Emergency Management and Communications camera at the southwest corner of Oak and Michigan, according to a statement from Police News Affairs, but haven’t determined whether or not the bus driver was at fault. (OEMC denied a Reader FOIA request to access the footage, arguing that allowing a civilian to see which parts of the intersection are visible to the camera would undermine efforts to prevent terrorism and other crimes.)

FK Law plans to subpoena OEMC this week. Kevenides says the department will likely have two or three weeks to respond. Yesterday FK Law staff inspected the bus along with experts hired by the firm. “We’ve uncovered a lot, but there’s a whole lot more info out there,” Kevenides says. “Our strategy moving forward is to investigate exactly what happened and try to gain a much clearer picture than was previously reported.”

The first status hearing for the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled. A lawyer for the bus company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some 200 people on bikes filled the streets last month for the "RYB Fest" tribute to Klingenberg.
Some 200 people on bikes filled the streets last month for the “RYB Fest” tribute to Klingenberg.Credit: John Greenfield

Family, friends, and coworkers of Blaine Klingenberg held a memorial bike ride and barbecue last month dubbed “RYB Fest,” the name inspired by the hashtag #RideYoBike. According to organizers, the purpose of the event was “to raise awareness of insecurities in bike infrastructure, the presence and vulnerability of cyclists on the streets, and celebrate the life that Beezy brought to all of us.”

The ride began in Humboldt Park and continued downtown to some of Klingenberg’s favorite standby spots, and proceeded up Michigan to the crash site. Afterwards, the group headed northwest to Richard Clark Park for a barbecue and trail riding at the Garden, a dirt-jump course within the park. About 200 cyclists filled the street in Klingenberg’s honor.