Cyclist killed on dangerous stretch of Milwaukee Avenue was a devoted volunteer: ‘Exactly what you’d want in a friend and mentor’
Samuel Bell was struck by a driver Thursday in River West. He’s the second cyclist killed on Milwaukee Avenue this year.
Friends remember the joking and laughter that followed Samuel Bell, who relished his work for disadvantaged youth.
“Sam had some of the most amazing stories [about] these children whose brothers and fathers died due to gang violence,” said Kevin Klein, who worked with Bell at the Midtown Educational Foundation.
Thursday morning, Bell was hit by a driver turning left while he rode a motorized bike in the 700 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, according to Chicago police. He died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 44.
The driver, 77, was cited for failing to yield the right of way on a left turn.
The driver consented to a DUI test at UIC Hospital, but staff there told police they no longer do those tests because of a “legal issue,” according to a police report. About three hours after the crash, an officer asked the driver to go to Northwestern Memorial for a DUI test, but the driver refused. It’s unclear whether police will file more charges.
Bell is the second cyclist killed this year on Milwaukee Avenue, a diagonal street considered a “bike highway” for commuters on the Northwest Side.
“Milwaukee Avenue is extremely dangerous for cyclists,” said Christina Whitehouse, head of the bike safety advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising. “That street proves it year after year. I avoid it at all costs.”
In May, Nick Parlingayan was struck and killed by a driver on Milwaukee in Irving Park. Bicycle advocates complained that bike lane lines there were almost completely faded away when another cyclist was killed there a year earlier.
The city targeted Milwaukee Avenue for bicycle safety improvements in 2019 and recommended adding protected bike lanes and posts to deter drivers from crossing into bike lanes.
But those improvements aren’t enough, Whitehouse said. Bell was hit while crossing Huron Street at Milwaukee. The bike lane, protected by concrete curbs, opens up at the diagonal intersection and allows too much space for drivers to cut in, Whitehouse said.
“The curb doesn’t protect all the way to the corner. Having a median to tighten the radius would’ve actually helped,” she said.
Cyclists are often forgotten during city planning of intersections, she said. “The intersections are the deadliest” part of the street for cyclists. “Think of the protected bike lanes: They all completely disappear in the intersection.”
Bell was a board member with the Midtown Educational Foundation, which works with low-income Chicago youth.
“He was able to work with these kids to keep them off the street and keep them on a good path,” Klein said. “Meeting these kids he mentored as high schoolers or sixth-graders as adults — and seeing the impact he had on their lives and the regard that they held him in — was just so amazing.”
Angel Justiniano, 30, was mentored by the organization as a teen and eventually got a job in the foundation as a program manager. Bell was an important asset to the organization, Justiniano said.
As a board member, Bell “brought in dozens of people within the organization who donated their time and resources,” he said.
“He made it his second home. If you reach out to anyone in the organization who had association with it in the last 12, 13, 14 years, they know who Sam Bell was and what he did,” he said.
Bell was someone who was “exactly what you’d want in a friend and mentor,” he said. “It’s this aura about him, it was genuine,” Justiniano said. “He was the guy in the room that everyone gravitated toward.
“Every time I think of him, I’ll think of him in a sharp suit, always looking awesome, but also having such a great personality and being very personable,” Justiniano added.
Klein said Bell was a “very outgoing person and the life of the party.” He recalls one year where he and Bell wore matching homemade astronaut costumes for Halloween.
“He always wanted to make sure everybody had a good time,” Klein said. “He would go well out of his way to make sure you were smiling, even if he didn’t know you very well.”
Bell is the fifth person on a bicycle to be killed by drivers in Chicago this year.
In June, two children were killed in separate incidents. Lily Grace, 3, was hit by a semi in Uptown. Two weeks earlier, 2-year-old Raphael Cardenas was killed by a driver while riding a mini-scooter in Lincoln Square.
In April, Paresh Chhatrala, 42, died after he was hit by a driver while biking in the West Loop. In February, Gerardo Marciales, 41, was fatally struck by a driver as he rode his bike on DuSable Lake Shore Drive near Buckingham Fountain.