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Workers repair a stoplight on the traffic island that was damaged in the crash.

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 11 (6 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 4 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 6

Once again a taxi has taken the life of an innocent bystander, but it may be too soon to say whether the driver is to blame. According to witnesses, shortly after 6 am Tuesday morning John Kesse, 64, was driving his cab with one passenger southeast on Milwaukee Avenue in River West, traveling far beyond the speed limit.

By the time Kesse reached the complex intersection of Milwaukee, Chicago Avenue, May Street and Ogden Avenue, a seven-way junction, he had lost control of the vehicle, which veered east across Milwaukee. The taxi struck a light pole on the triangular traffic island in the middle of the intersection, which houses an entrance to the Blue Line’s Chicago stop, and flipped several times, according to witnesses.

The vehicle careened into the southeast corner of the intersection, slamming into a large sign for the CVS Pharmacy and a nearby advertising bench, and striking Eric Kerestes. A thirty-year-old engineer and MBA student, Kerestes lived just a few blocks away on the 600 block of North Racine.

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Skid marks are visible at the corner where the cab struck Kerestes.

Although the police reported he was sitting on the bench waiting for a bus at the time of the crash, there is no bus stop at that corner of the intersection. Instead it’s likely Kerestes was on his way to the Blue Line entrance to catch the train to work; his employer, a construction firm called Kiewit, is located a short walk from the Blue Line’s Cumberland station. Here’s a Google Map showing the path of the cab (blue) and Kerestes’ probable route (orange) to the station.

Upon impact Kereste was thrown at least 15 feet; he died at the scene at 6:36 am, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. The cab landed in the parking lot of the pharmacy and burst into flames. The passenger was able to escape; bystanders rescued Kesse from the twisted wreckage. The driver was taken to Stroger Hospital in good condition and the passenger was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in serious to critical condition.

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Karestes with his wife Tatijana – photo courtesy of the family.

A fire official at the scene estimated the cab may have been going over 100 miles per hour when it lost control. Kesse told police that the cab sped off at a high velocity and that he tried to stop it but the brakes didn’t work. He has not been charged with any violations.

It’s tempting to blame the cab driver for the senseless death of a young man in his prime and argue that this tragedy is further evidence the city needs to do more to get dangerous cab drivers off the road. But according to court records Kesse received only 28 traffic tickets during his 25 years as a Chicago cabbie, a reasonable number, and city officials say they have no record of complaints about his driving.

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Friends of Kerestes left flowers at the crash site.

For a 1992 Tribune feature, a reporter hired Kesse to drive him 43 miles to the proposed site of the Peotone Airport – in the story the cabbie comes across as a responsible, likeable person. Since there’s no evidence so far that Kesse is the type of person who would voluntarily drive dozens of miles over the speed limit, it’s probably best to withhold judgment until the authorities finish investigating the case.

Thursday 8/16 update: On Wednesday evening the Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago Police Department has issued Kesse several tickets, citing him for negligent driving, driving 30 mph to 40 mph above the speed limit, failure to reduce speed, failure to keep in lane, disobeying a red light, driving on sidewalks and parkways, and damage to public property. Kesse’s cab will undergo a mechanical inspection as part of the investigation.

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time and includes only people who died in the Chicago city limits. View previous Fatality Tracker posts.

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  • Lisa Curcio

    Thanks for a balanced report and for presenting what little evidence is available. One can only feel sadness and grief at the loss of Mr. Kerestes. His death is not, however, justification for trying and finding the cab driver guilty based upon the fact that an accident occurred and the vehicle was a cab.

  • http://profiles.google.com/alottes Ash L

    More than one traffic violation per year is a “reasonable” number? Jesus take the wheel. We all need to be re-educated in what a responsibility driving is. Every time you get behind the wheel you are powering a potentially deadly weapon. There is far too much hand wringing about “accidents” and “acts of god”. You’ve got to be kidding me. A man is dead. 11 people this year are dead from just walking and going about their business. In each case another human being took their lives away from them and you are hemming and hawing about 28 tickets being an acceptable number.

    • John Greenfield

      I’ve never driven a cab, but it seems that if you drive 2,000+ hours per year for a living it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a a dangerous driver if about once a year you make an error and get ticketed for a minor infraction.
      We don’t know what kind of violations Kesse was ticket for in the past.
      Obviously a cabbie’s goal should be to have a perfect driving record, but Kesse did have one for the last three years or his career.

    • http://twitter.com/efeesq efe

      I agree, Ash L. One ticket per year doesn’t seem acceptable, especially considering how hard it is to get a traffic ticket in Chicago. Even if we accept that his brakes weren’t working, why was he going so fast (witnesses estimated 60+mph) in the first place? Now I am supposed to believe neither his brakes nor gas pedal were working properly? Yeah right.

    • http://twitter.com/cabslaves Eric P. Martin

      Ash, in your world, things must go perfect.

      Think about these factors with your equation.

      1)The number of hours cab drivers are behind the wheel and compare to regular drivers.

      2) The City of Chicago is responsible for the 12 hours that drivers are on the road. The City of Chicago should set the hours for cab drivers leases at 8 hours, this way, drivers don’t have to driver 4 hours “overtime”

      3) There are some cab companies that will stretch the number of years a cab can generate money for them before purchasing a new vehicle.

  • C L

    What a horrifying story. I think what you’re supposed to do in this situation is put the car in neutral and turn it off, but I’m sure it’s hard to think clearly when you’re in such a terrifying situation.

  • Bonita14

    That’s great the driver has no complaints
    but in all reality who really spends the time to complain about a cabbie?? I
    have been in more cabs than I can count who the driver is rude, crude, crazy or
    drives like an animal and I have not complained b/c that is like complaining
    that ice is cold. If I was Mr. Kereste’s family I would have your article
    removed for its lack of sensitivity toward the dead victim, not the “poor
    driver” as you are making him out to be.

  • http://www.yourgamercards.net/profile/AdaJacks Jackson Adams

    According to recent news reports, the taxi driver stated that he pressed the brakes but the vehicle would not stop.

    A professional driver not only has the responsibility of driving the vehicle safely, but also maintaining it responsibly and disposing of it once it has reached its useful life. I don’t recall ever seeing a taxi in highly regulated northern Europe that was over ten years old & they were always in excellent condition.

    Judging from the photos, the taxi involved in this fatality appears to be an early nineties Ford Crown Victoria.

    Furthermore, not only is the vehicle more than two decades old. I would question if it is even road worthy given the recent scandal of “totaled” police cars being used as licensed taxis in Chicago. Chicago Sun-Times: Illegal Taxis Yanked Off the Street http://www.suntimes.com/news/watchdogs/2606640-452/illegal-taxis-yanked-off-the-street.html

  • Brent S.

    Many Milwaukee Ave commuters, particularly bicyclists, saw this mess on their commute. The aftermath did not look like a car accident scene, not even a multicar accident. Eric’s body was laying under a sheet far from the sidewalk on the other side of the nearest spots in the CSV lot when I went by.

  • http://twitter.com/AdamHerstein Adam Herstein

    He couldn’t have pulled the e-brake? Even if the brakes did fail, how does that explain the fact that he was travelling at over twice the posted speed limit? The only way that the driver is not at fault is if the brakes and e-brake simultaneously failed, the accelerator was stuck down AND the car would not shift into neutral.

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

      I’m leaning in that direction too. I wonder if any of my new acquaintances here in Copenhagen have an opinion on what should happen to the driver.

  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    I just heard of another pedestrian fatality, just a few miles from where I live.

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

      Was it in the city limits?

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  • http://profiles.google.com/crpope10 Chris Pope

    Where’s the vehicular manslaughter or negligent homicide charge?

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