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)
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.
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.
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.
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.