Friday, July 16, 2021

Chicago Boy Killed in Collision with Modified Truck Driven by Chicago Police Officer

A Chicago police officer tragically ran over and killed a 9-year old Chicago boy who was crossing the street on his bicycle. Chicago is in shock over one of the most tragic deaths of a Chicago bicyclist in the city's history. Beyond the massive tragedy, the death of 9-year old Hershel Weinberger in West Rogers Park stands out for many reasons: the young age of the victim, the vehicle involved and the status of the driver of the vehicle.

According to an interview with the father of the boy, Shamai Weinberger, to the Chicago Tribune, young Hershel Weinberger was riding his bicycle home from a friend's house. As Hershel was riding eastbound he crossed the intersection of West Chase Avenue and North Sacramento Avenue. This intersection is notable because it is a four-way stop with both stop signs at every corner and crosswalks across all four crossings at the intersection. So there was both a clear traffic control device in the form of a stop sign and a clearly marked crosswalk notifying drivers twice that they must stop at the intersection.

Chicago Police Officers Held To Higher Standards

Despite the requirements that drivers stop at stop signs and stop for anyone in a crosswalk the driver of the Toyota Tundra did not stop and struck the boy. This is a senseless and preventable act in any situation but is even more shocking because the driver was an off-duty Chicago Police Officer. All drivers are required to follow the Rules of the Road as found in both the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Chicago Municipal Code. 

Beyond this, a Chicago Police Officer is required to "serve and protect." The Mission Statement of the Chicago police department is "To serve our communities and protect the lives, rights, and property of all people in Chicago.The "Core Values of the Chicago Police Department" explicitly state that Chicago Police Officers are a part of a "highly trained profession" and that they are to conduct themselves in a consistent manner both on and off duty. 

Violations of Chicago and Illinois Traffic Laws

News reports indicate that the driver was cited for failure to "exercise due care." In Chicago this is a violation of a general provision applicable to all drivers. It is unclear why the Chicago Police Department would not cite the driver for failing to stop at the stop sign and failing to stop at the crosswalk. It is possible that upon reviewing the case that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office could file additional charges. 

The basic facts of the case suggest that there were additional violations of the Illinois Vehicle Code:
  • Section 11-1003.1 states: “[E]very driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle or other device propelled by human power and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary . . . .”
  • Section 5/11-1002(e) states: “Whenever stop signs or flashing red signals are in place at an intersection or at a plainly marked crosswalk between intersections, drivers shall yield right-of-way to pedestrians as set forth in Section 11-904 of this Chapter.”
  • Section 11-904(b) requires drivers approaching a stop sign to come to a complete stop before entering a crosswalk at an intersection and to yield to the right-of-way of any vehicle that has entered the intersection.
  • Section 11-601 requires drivers to reduce the speed of their vehicle to avoid a collision.
Children Expected to Ride on Sidewalk

This young boy was clearly the victim and played no role in what occurred. In Chicago a child under the age of 12 may permissibly ride their bicycle on the sidewalk. This law exists for the sole purpose of providing children a safer place to ride than the roadway. 

Any bicyclist crossing on a crosswalk is also considered a "pedestrian" under the circumstances. Section 5/11-1512(c) of the Illinois Vehicle Code specifically provides that, “A person propelling a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”

Truck Involved Aggressively Modified

The Toyota Tundra involved was not a typical passenger vehicle. In fact, the vehicle is not even a typical Toyota Tundra. The Chicago Police Officer was driving a heavily modified Toyota Tundra pick-up truck. A Toyota Tundra is a very large pick-up truck to begin with weighing over 5,000 pounds - in other words the truck weighs over two and a half tons. Video of the truck shows several obvious modifications. 

First the truck has a "lift" which is the terms used when additional suspension is added to the vehicle so that it can ride over terrain more easily and in the process literally raises the height of the vehicle. Images from news video from the scene shows that persons standing next to the vehicle, even a person standing on the curb, were not as tall as the roofline of the truck. The truck's lift is so extreme that it is outfitted with "step bars" because otherwise the truck is too big to climb into. Second, the vehicle is outfitted with knobby oversized tires such as those typically found on vehicles utilized for off roading. Third, the truck has a "bully bar" which is typically found on police and military vehicles that are used to push objects with the front of the vehicle. 

This truck was modified in a way that is suited only for off-roading in difficult terrain. This is not a vehicle that serves any reasonable purpose on residential streets in a quiet part of Chicago. 

A Senseless Loss

This tragic death could have been prevented on many levels. The simple act of following the Illinois and Chicago vehicle laws - the very laws the officer swore to uphold - would have prevented this death. In addition the sheer size and aggression of this vehicle created a nightmare scenario that may not have unfolded the same way if it was even a modest passenger vehicle.