In some respects, of the four fatal bike crashes that happened in Chicago within the space of about two months this summer, the death of 58-year-old North Lawndale resident Francisco “Frank” Cruz was the most disturbing.
All four cases involved allegedly reckless conduct by the drivers of commercial vehicles. But in the other incidents—in which courier Blaine Klingenberg, Divvy rider Virginia Murray, and art student Lisa Kuivinen lost their lives—the motorists stayed on the scene. The cargo-van driver who ran over Cruz as he rode his bike in West Garfield Park August 17 sped away from the crash without stopping to render aid.
And, almost a month after the crash, the driver remains at large, despite the fact that a security camera captured footage of the van that struck Cruz, complete with identifying information about the van’s origins.
According to police, Cruz was biking south on Pulaski, just south of the Green Line station, at 10:19 PM, when a northbound driver in a white commercial van made a left turn onto Maypole, running Cruz over. Security video recovered from Family Meat Market, a corner store next to the crash site, appears to show the driver plowing into Cruz without hitting the brakes, then fleeing west on Maypole. Several bystanders can then be seen running to the fallen cyclist.
Security footage also shows that the van was marked with the phone number for Advanced Realty Services, a brokerage located at 2427 W. Madison.
Still, nearly a month after the fatal collisions, no one has been charged in conjunction with Cruz’s death, according to police, and there are no updates on the search for the driver.
“The case remains open, and detectives continue to investigate,” a Chicago Police Department spokesperson said via e-mail.
Police have asked anyone with information about the crash to call 312-745-4521.
I visited Advanced Realty’s storefront five days after the crash, where I spoke with a man who was cleaning the office, but said he knew nothing about the case. When I called the office last week for comment, an employee took a message, but the call wasn’t returned.
In the wake of Cruz’s death, family members and friends have described the father of seven, also nicknamed “Pops,” as a kindhearted man.
“He was just a nice person—he’d give you the shirt off his back,” says Cruz’s sister, Candy Cruz, 52, who spoke to me at their mother’s home in North Lawndale last week. According to Candy, Frank worked as a security guard and a handyman, fixing roofs and ceilings. Since he didn’t have a driver’s license, he mostly got around on two wheels.
“He knew how to put bikes together,” she said. “He was that kind of dude—he loved his bike.”
“He was a good guy,” Cruz’s stepson Michael Burdine told CBS. “He helped everybody.” Burdine added that he had been talking to people in the area, trying to get leads on the driver’s identity. “We want justice.”
Cruz’s wife, Virgie Burdine, told CBS that the family would forgive the driver if they turned themselves in. “Please come forward and give yourself up,” she said.
(I wasn’t able to reach the Burdines before press time, and Cruz’s mother, Isabelle Cruz, declined to comment.)
—A witness to the crash
Hit-and-run collisions are a major problem in Chicago. According to city data, between 2005 and 2014, 40 percent of pedestrian fatalities involved drivers who fled. Of the 18 people who have been killed while walking in the city this year, according to news reports, eight, or 44 percent, were victims of hit-and-runs.
Candy Cruz blamed the delay in apprehending a suspect in her brother’s death on crash witnesses, who she says should be able to help ID the motorist that killed her brother.
“They won’t come forward because they’re scared,” she said. “Why should our family suffer because they don’t want to get involved?”
But Officer Nicole Trainor from CPD News Affairs says that some crash witnesses have come forward to provide testimony.
One of them works at Gotcha Faded barbershop, just south of Family Meat Market. He spoke with me last week, but declined to give his name, citing fear of repercussions. (He also previously spoke with WGN.)
The man said he was outside sweeping the sidewalk when he saw the collision occur, including the moment of impact, exactly as described in the police report.
“Why haven’t they found the guy yet?” he asked. “All you have to do is google the number on the van.”
Another witness to the aftermath of the crash was La’Kesha Montgomery, who works at the Church’s Chicken at 2 S. Pulaski, which Cruz frequented.
“He was just a nice old man—he was cool,” Montgomery recalled in a conversation last month. “He always had his security guard hat and jacket on. He used to sweep the parking lot and keep people from congregating in the lot. In exchange we’d give him some chicken or a few dollars at the end of the night.”
Montgomery said that on the night of the crash she and Cruz left the restaurant early and went to a liquor store next to the Pulaski Green Line stop to pick up beer. He departed before her, biking south toward his home in North Lawndale. She soon got news that he had been struck, and rushed to the scene.
“He had been crushed,” she said. “You could tell it was over for him.”
She said she found Cruz’s cell phone in the street and used it to notify his relatives before giving it to one of the responding police officers.
Montgomery, who also runs an informal snowball and candy stand next to the liquor store, said she’s very familiar with the corner where the crash took place, and told me she believes many of the witnesses had come there to sell and buy drugs.
“You know those people are not going to talk to the police,” she said.
CPD didn’t respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for documents and e-mails related to the case before press time. But hopefully police will be able to identify the van driver, if they haven’t already. If the person who ran over Frank Cruz and left him to die is never prosecuted, a situation that’s all too common with Chicago hit-and-runs, it would be a great injustice for a man who friends and loved ones say deserved better. v
John Greenfield edits the transportation news website Streetsblog Chicago.