Chicago cab accident


Two days after a taxi skidded off Illinois Street and slammed into a pedestrian in Streeterville, killing him and leaving the cab driver and his passenger in serious condition, authorities have identified the man who died.

Hector Placencia, 57, of Rogers Park was walking east near the AMC River East 21 movie theaters at about 9 a.m. when the taxi swerved onto the sidewalk, struck him, and then crashed into a wall.

As deeply sad—and frankly, scary—as it is, it’s the kind of story I normally wouldn’t follow so closely. But the accident and the death hit me—almost literally—very personally. As it turns out, I walk past the spot where it happened—at almost the exact time that it happened—virtually every day on my way to the office. For whatever reason, I was running a little bit late on Monday, so that all I saw was the clot of ambulances, police cars and rescue workers on the scene and the red tape blocking the sidewalk.

Until a little over a month ago, the intersection of Columbus and Illinois was, for me, just an intersection. But Monday’s accident follows another pedestrian death near the corner I pass every day, this one in May, when the driver of a tour bus hit a bright, vibrant young woman named Justyna Palka, killing her instantly.

Justyna had worked for a short time with Chicago magazine, and the staff, particularly in the art department where she interned, was naturally shocked and deeply saddened. As it happened, that accident occurred around 6:50 p.m., the time I’m often walking back to my car to leave for the day. I often wonder if she was on her way home from the office when she was hit.

A small memorial—some flowers, a ribbon with Justyna’s name on it, all lashed to a traffic light stanchion bearing a “no turn on red when pedestrians are present” sign—was created shortly after, as is the fashion these days. On Monday, the day that a different pedestrian was killed, the petals of a single rose on the memorial drooped brown and curled. But the little shrine was still there.

And it was there yesterday morning, up ahead as I crossed Illinois, and the driver turning against the “walk” signal slowed not to hit me. She looked exasperated, angry even, and I glared back for a moment, angry myself. I doubt she knew why I was so upset, not that it mattered.

I just walked on, crossing Columbus, past the memorial to Justyna. I often touch the pole as I pass, but didn’t this morning. I’m not sure why. I did say a silent prayer for her family and friends, as I usually do. And now, after learning the name of Monday’s victim, I did the same for Hector Placencia.

I’d like to think that people would be aware of the two deaths there. And I’d rather not feel like I’m the next potential roadkill as I cross there every day. I can’t help but note that it’s a stop-light-camera intersection. Did that play a role? Who knows? I guess the only thing I do know is that you never really do know.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune