Almost three months after Francisco "Frank" Cruz, 58, was fatally struck on his bicycle by a hit-and-run van driver in West Garfield Park, police still haven't made an arrest. That's despite the fact that a security camera captured an image of the vehicle that hit him, which was marked with the phone number for a local real estate company.
Last month Cruz's mother, Isabelle, made her own attempt to bring her son's killer to justice, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, Advanced Real Estate, as well as the as-yet-unidentified driver. But last week a separate lawsuit was filed on behalf of a man named Kevon Williams, identified by his attorney as Frank Cruz's son and as the special executor of his estate. Now, the potential conflict between the two competing suits threatens to delay possible compensation and closure for the fallen cyclist's family.
On August 17 at 10:19 PM, Cruz, a security guard and contractor, was biking home to North Lawndale from a liquor store next to the Pulaski Green Line station, where he'd stopped after work to pick up beer, according to a friend who was with him shortly before the crash. As he rode south at Maypole and Pulaski, the northbound van driver made a left onto Maypole, running over and crushing the cyclist, according to police. Video indicates that the motorist didn't brake, but instead fled west on Maypole. Cruz was pronounced dead at 11 PM at Stroger Hospital.
Even though the Chicago Police Department has the image of the van, and there were several witnesses present, the investigation remains open and the driver is still at large, according to the CPD.
On October 12 the personal injury firm Disparti Law Group filed the wrongful death suit against Advanced Realty and the unnamed van driver in Cook County circuit court on behalf of Isabelle Cruz. The suit seeks at least $50,000 in damages.
"Frank's mother wants the person who did this to be held accountable for her son's death," Kolb said in an interview last week. "It was a case of a man just riding his bike home with his dinner and having his life tragically ended by a reckless motorist."
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the van driver was driving too fast for conditions, failed to yield, and failed to brake before hitting Cruz. The suit also states that the driver caused Cruz "bodily injury, pain, fright, disfigurement, and other injuries" before his death. It's unclear whether Cruz died immediately after he was struck or sometime later, Kolb said, "but even if he lived only another minute or half minute, the fact that he got crumpled under that vehicle. . . . Can you imagine the pain of having your bones crushed and broken?"
The suit adds that Cruz's passing has denied his family his "services" and "society," and caused them "grief, sorrow, and loss of relationship."
But unbeknownst to Isabelle Cruz and her attorney, on November 8 came the second lawsuit was filed against Advanced Realty and the unidentified driver by the firm Gordon & Centracchio on behalf of Williams, identified in the suit as the special administrator to Cruz's estate. This second suit is also seeking more than $50,000 in damages.
Last week Gordon & Centracchio attorney Joe Ryan told me that Williams is the son of Frank Cruz and his wife, Virgie Burdine. Ryan said he needed to consult with Williams before discussing the case further, and subsequently didn't return multiple follow-up messages I sent him earlier this week.
Reached on the phone last week, Isabelle Cruz and Frank's sister, Candy Cruz, said they don't know Williams. Both declined to comment further on the case. Although a CBS report in the wake of the crash described Burdine as Cruz's wife, Candy Cruz told me in September that Burdine was merely "Frank's ex-girlfriend."
When I informed Kolb of Williams's lawsuit, he said he suspects the other suit is invalid, both because of the way it was filed and because it's not clear whether Williams is actually related to Cruz.
Although research by a private investigator hired by his firm didn't turn up evidence of children, Kolb said, he acknowledged that there may still be relatives of Cruz's who need to be notified of the suit. A spouse or child of a victim takes precedence over a parent or sibling in these kinds of cases.
"If [Williams's attorney] can provide me with the marriage or birth certificate, I'll move on and they can take over the case," Kolb said. "If he's wrong, then I represent the appropriate heirs."
Jim Freeman, a personal injury lawyer with the bike-focused personal injury firm FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), said it's possible that both Isabelle Cruz and Kevon Williams—if he's Frank Cruz's son—deserve compensation for Cruz's death. But Freeman added that determining who gets what portion of any potential compensation could be time-consuming.
"[The two sides are] going to have to duke it out," he said.
However this conflict is resolved, now that law firms have been retained, it's possible that the attorneys will be able to uncover more information about the driver who killed Frank Cruz.
Kolb said Advanced Realty hasn't responded to calls or letters, and a search of county records indicated that the company hasn't yet responded to either lawsuit. (Advanced Realty also hasn't returned multiple messages I've left.) But its lawyers will have to formally answer the complaint, as well as answer written questions under oath on subjects such as the names and job titles of all employees and who had the van on the night of the crash, which could provide the police with new leads. A court date is scheduled for December 6.
While some people in the local bike community feared the case had gone cold, it's still possible that justice can be served. vJohn Greenfield edits the transportation news website Streetsblog Chicago.