A Deadly Intersection, a $6.75 Million Settlement, and a Beloved Memorial to Justyna Palka

A girl was killed by a bus in 2011. Now, the bus company will pay a $6.75 million settlement to the family—including a sister who has spent years tending a memorial at the site of the accident.

Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune 

Flowers at the memorial of Justyna Palka in March of 2012.

The family of a woman struck and killed by a tour bus in Streeterville two years ago has reached a $6.75 million settlement with the bus company, according to a Tribune report.

The story caught my attention for a couple of reasons: One, the woman, Justyna Palka, 26 when she died, worked briefly at Chicago magazine as an intern. But also because I so often encounter a reminder of her death.

The reminder clings to a pole at Columbus and Illinois, the corner where David Soto, 47, of the Northwest Side, slammed into Palka while making a right turn at the intersection. Soto was later charged with aggravated DUI after he tested positive for having cocaine in his system when the accident occurred.

It was later revealed that in the decade between 1998 and 2008, Soto had amassed 20 traffic citations, according to court records and Palka’s attorneys.

The intersection is particularly dangerous. Not long after Justyna’s death, a taxi skidded off Illinois street and up onto the sidewalk in the rain and slammed into a pedestrian, killing him.

Homemade memorials often spring up in the wake of such tragedies. The months pass and the flowers wither. Workers clear away the stuffed animals, the candles, the cards. In this case, Justyna’s memorial has never really faded away. During certain holidays, the memorial will be updated with a nod to the season—Easter eggs nestled in the flowers, say.

I know this because I pass the spot on my way to work. The flowers and ribbons are changed often enough that they’ve barely had a chance to droop before a new, bright arrangement appears. This devotion is thanks to Justyna’s sister, who does her work quickly and anonymously.

How do I know it’s her sister? I happened on her while she was changing the flowers one day and asked who she was. I told her that Justyna worked in my office for a short time, though I never really got to know her. “She was a wonderful person,” said the sister, who didn’t give me her name. She simply smiled and thanked me for my concern. I’ve not seen her since. But I’ve seen her work and felt the love behind it almost every day.

 

Photos: E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune 

Justyna Palka’s memorial as it looked (left to right) in January, March, and April of 2012.

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