Cyclist’s death in Chelsea is city’s 12th this year

BY GABE HERMAN | A bicycle messenger died in Chelsea on Monday morning after being hit by a truck on Sixth Ave., just north of W. 23rd St.

The messenger, 20-year-old Robyn Hightman, was found by police laying on the street, unconscious and unresponsive, with head trauma.

An E.M.S. ambulance transported Hightman to Bellevue Hospital, where the young cyclist was pronounced dead.

Robyn Hightman died on Monday after being hit by a truck on Sixth Ave. in Chelsea. (Courtesy Instagram-“supermintusa”)

A Virginia native, Hightman reportedly preferred to identify by the pronouns “they/them.”

Hightman was hit by a white Freightliner delivery truck, according to police. The truck initially left the scene but then returned.

The driver, 54-year-old Antonio Garcia, reportedly said he did not know he had hit someone until several blocks later when he was told by a witness.

“I’m driving no more than 20 [miles per hour], no down to 15,” he told CBS, of his speed. “I don’t see nothing. The passenger told me, ‘Somebody hit you in the back.’”

The driver was issued five summonses at the scene, for equipment violations related to the truck that were unrelated to the incident.

Police said Hightman and the truck were both traveling uptown on Sixth Ave. when they collided. Witnesses said Hightman was riding outside the bike lane when the incident occurred.

It is fairly common for riders to go outside of the bike lane briefly at that intersection, to avoid large crowds and congestion, according to fellow bike messenger Mike Pach, who was at a memorial for Hightman near the intersection on Monday afternoon.

“The bike lane becomes untenable even a block away,” said Pach, who has been a messenger for three years. He said it’s usually easier to ride with the cars until getting midway up the next block, between W. 23rd and 24th Sts.

A cyclist on Sixth Ave. briefly avoided the bike lane between 23rd and 24th Sts. before turning back onto it midway up the next block. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Monday afternoon, several cyclists could be seen doing what Pach described, veering out into car lanes near the intersection to avoid heavy pedestrian traffic and slower bicycles, and then turning back into the bike lane midway up the block.

Hightman made deliveries around the city for Capsule. Monday was the cyclist’s first day also working for Samurai, a company that Pach said only hires very good bike messengers.

Pach called Hightman “a total sweetheart” who was involved with the cycling organization Spin Peaks, including participating in its Gold Sprint fundraising races.

Hightman was also an ambassador for the women’s cycling team Hagens Berman-Supermint, which posted a tribute on Instagram. The post shared some of Hightman’s application to join the group, and called it “the most passionate, in-depth one we’ve received out of hundreds.”

“As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect,” Hightman wrote, in part, on the application, “my first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes. My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space.”

Hightman continued, “Eventually, my bicycle allowed me to provide for myself when I began working a full time job at the age of fourteen. My bicycle provided me with the socioeconomic mobility necessary to escape. My bicycle saved my life.”

A memorial on Sixth Ave. near the site of Robyn Hightman’s death. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

By Monday afternoon, a memorial had been posted on Sixth Ave. just north of 23rd St., including flowers and tributes written on a piece of cardboard.

A vigil was held there on Monday evening, which drew hundreds of mourners. Twelve cyclists have now died through about six months of 2019 on New York City’s streets, compared to 1o deaths in all of 2018.

Pach said the city should have a more complete bike lane infrastructure, but right now just installs them “willy-nilly,” in some places and not others.

And he said it would help for police to do better enforcement for the bike lanes, such as keeping cars out of both them and the buffer areas beside them, where a car door could open and smash into a cyclist.

Pach said police focus too much on ticketing cyclists, and that he recently got a ticket for not having a reflector.

The day after Hightman’s death, police were reportedly ticketing cyclists near the intersection. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, responded on Twitter, “I am disturbed by reports of a NYPD crackdown on cyclists near the intersection where cyclist Robyn Hightman was killed yesterday by traffic violence. Trucks and cars are the cause of the overwhelming number of traffic fatalities in our city.”

Part of the memorial to Robyn Hightman included a piece of cardboard with messages written for the young cyclist. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Johnson added in another post, “Robyn‘s death is a tragedy and so is the number of cyclist deaths so far this year. Let’s get serious about making our streets safer for everyone.”

Pach said of Hightman’s cycling during the tragic incident, “This wasn’t luxury, she was doing her job.”

He added that this incident in the wake of the city’s mounting numbers of cycling deaths is overwhelming.

“This year I’m starting to get numb,” he said. “It’s hard to be constantly outraged.”