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Google Streetview of the crash site, 26th and East in Berwyn, from the driver’s perspective.

Click here to donate to a fund that will help cover Justin’s medical expenses.

Steven and I don’t normally devote full posts to non-fatal bicycle crashes, but the case of Justin Carver, a friend of a friend of mine, really hit home with me and has also struck a chord with the local bike community. Because of a careless move by a driver, Justin is currently in the intensive care unit, fighting for his life with a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones.

According to Justin’s wife Kim MacGregor Carver, Justin bicycled from their home in Oak Park to his job at the Stickney-Forest View Public Library several times a week. On Monday, December 3, around 5:15 pm, he was riding north on East Avenue in Berwyn, a residential street. When he came to the intersection of 26th Street, the driver of a southbound Chevrolet Suburban SUV made a left turn onto 26th and failed to yield to the cyclist, striking the left side of his body.

Justin, who was wearing a helmet, sustained severe head injuries. Although there were no skull fractures, there was trauma to the front of his brain and bleeding on the brain, and he received lacerations to his forehead. He also suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibia, a broken clavicle and scapula on his left side, and a broken finger in his left hand. “I have to imagine the helmet lessened the impact,” Kim told me on the phone yesterday afternoon, speaking from Justin’s hospital room. “I believe that if he didn’t have his helmet on it could have been over instantly.”


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Possible routes of the cyclist (blue), from the library to the crash site, and the driver (red).

The motorist, an 18-year-old male, was driving with a learner’s permit. He had other teens in the car as passengers but no licensed adult, so he was in violation of his permit. He told police that he didn’t see Justin in the dark, although officers confirmed that the cyclists’ lights were working at the time. The police tested the driver and determined he was not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Kim said.

Although Justin’s initial prognosis was not optimistic, he seems to be making slow but steady progress. Following surgery to remove part of his skull and relieve pressure on his brain, he is still breathing with help from a ventilator, but doctors hope to have him breathing on his own soon. An external ventricular drain was used to drain spinal fluid from his skull; he is now off the drain and the pressure in the skull is being monitored.

Due to his tracheal tube, Justin can’t currently talk, but Kim said he sometimes opens his eyes, and when she puts her hand in his, he squeezes it hard. As of yesterday morning he was able to move his right thumb slightly when requested, which is a very encouraging sign. “They can’t predict what his recovery will be, just that it will take a long time and we will have to wait and see,” Kim said.

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Justin Carver at the the library.

Obviously there will be some steep medical bills, but the driver only had minimum coverage insurance with a relatively low maximum payout. Kim is working with a lawyer to get a settlement, but this may take many months and the money will not pay all the bills. She has set up this donation site to help cover expenses.

As of yesterday evening, a week after the site launched, 117 people have contributed over $5,000 and donations are still coming in. Many of the donors seem to be local bicyclists who don’t know Justin personally but strongly identify with his story. “Our best wishes to Justin, Kim, and their families,” one posted on the donation site. “We are cyclists who ride in the same area – it could have been any of us.”

“The outpouring of emotional and financial support offered by both the cycling community and Kim and Justin’s personal networks has more than amazed me,” a friend of the couple wrote me. “I am in awe of Kim’s indefatigable support of Justin; they are newlyweds and I am sure this is not what she expected for their first year together. She is with him every day in the hospital talking to him, making sure he is comfortable, making sure he is entertained and keeping Justin’s community updated about his health. She even put an Oakland Raiders pennant up in his ICU room. Her love for him is really beautiful.”

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  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    East Ave. is generally an excellent bike route. I’ve ridden it many times. I’ve had a few near misses at the 26th St. intersection and others, due to drivers speeding through on yellow lights or otherwise not watching out for other road users.

    Many of us are wishing for Justin to make a good recovery. His progress is encouraging.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      It’s definitely a good sign that he’s already able to make voluntary movements and respond to requests.

  • Scott Sanderson

    I have had close calls with left-turning vehicles. One time a texting driver was turning left, and all I saw through the windshield was the top of his head. I thought I was a goner, but I yelled and rang my bell and he did look up in time.

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      I’ve often found that motion and sound to get a distracted driver’s attention has made a difference in avoiding potential crashes. At night, using my helmet-mounted blinkie is also helpful in alerting any driver who appears to be distracted or just doesn’t seem to see me.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    Heart wrenching :-(

    Good on the Chicago cops for noting the lights. Not every department would have bothered to check after a left cross like that.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Actually this was in a near-west suburb of Chicago called Berwyn, but yes, it was very thoughtful of the police to note that. Justin’s lights may still have been on after the crash. It will definitely help with the legal process that there’s evidence that Justin was riding lawfully, with lights.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        As we saw in the cross-post of Brendan Kevenides’s article, if the presence of lack of lights are not relevant to the circumstances of a crash, it may not matter. I am not a lawyer, but I play one on TV: the presence of lights may be a character reference, showing that Justin was knowledgable about state and city laws…?

  • Edgewater Roadie

    I have a question for Steven. I am wondering how many bike crashes are caused by turning traffic and cross-traffic vs. being hit from behind. I would be interested in that analysis. In urban areas, my guess is that turning and cross traffic crashes occur more often.

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      Steve – I hope you don’t mind if I offer a brief perspective to supplement your thoughts on the subject.

      Of the cases we see in our office, a high percentage of urban crashes are due to turning traffic and cross traffic, most often at intersections and parking lot entrances. Being hit from behind is comparatively rare. I know that Steve’s got numbers to add detail to the picture.

    • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

      I have been reporting on bike wrecks since 2006, and most wrecks are at intersections with turning vehicles, mostly people turning right immediately after or before completing a pass of the cyclist, the left cross is second after that with most of those wrecks non-fatal. Most of the fatal wrecks are hit-from-behind, with the majority of the hit-and-run fatalities being hit-from-behind. Hit-and-run are a significant percentage of the wrecks I see, normally about a quarter are hit-and-run but I have noticed a climb in those numbers so that more then a third of fatal wrecks are hit-and-run.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        I’ve reported on hit-and-run crashes (not the crashes themselves, but their prevalence). Chicago has a very high rate.

        You can read more on the hit-and-run tag and the fatality tracker tag.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        Where do you do your reporting?

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I wish I could give you the answer based on the SEVEN years of Illinois traffic crash data I have in the database I built for myself (using IDOT’s publicly-available data; you have to ask them for it, though).

      Most crash records do not have enough data in them for me to make a quality analysis. For example, the movements of the bicyclists are NOT in the crash records. The movements of the drivers ARE in the crash records, but they are not always understandable. By not understandable I mean that there is sometimes information that seems to be conflicting. An example of that would be the location of the crash (the point of first impact) and the movement of the automobile prior to the crash do not seem plausible or likely.

      Most crash records have a recorded cause, but I don’t like to rely on these. A large portion of them have “unavailable”, “unknown”, “not applicable”.

  • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

    From one drain bamaged cyclist to another I wish Justin a quick recovery, and remind him to be patient. There will be things you used to be able to do that you can’t any more, and things that will have to be done differently than you used to do them. Also you may have things that you have to do more than you used to, like I have to use a computer to communicate because I find talking tiring.

    Another thing is that the things you can and can’t do after you recover from traumatic brain damage are going to be unpredictable. You probably have deep damage that was only detectable for a few hours via MRI after the wreck. I did, but that was not available at the time of my wreck so I have no documentation of that damage. AAgain, good luck and a speedy recovery.

  • missmorganista

    His wife is a poster on another forum I go on, and I have been praying for them constantly.