Lanie Kruszewski, 24, VA

LaniegrinOn July 29, 2012, 24-year-old Lanie Kruszewski was struck and killed by a vehicle on River Road at Bridgeway Road in Richmond. She was biking from her job at Osaka Sushi & Steak near the Huguenot Bridge to her boyfriend’s house in the Museum District. She died almost instantly.

Adding to the tragedy of Lanie’s death was the fact that the crash was a hit-and-run. The day after the crash, a local TV station interviewed Lanie’s family members, who urged anyone with knowledge of the crash to come forward. The driver, 31-year-old Elias Webb, turned himself in later that week. During his trial, phone records showed that he was texting at the time of the crash. Webb maintained that he didn’t stop because he thought he had hit a deer — it wasn’t until the next day that he realized he may have hit Lanie. For leaving the scene, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

The day after the accident, a spray-painted white bike appeared chained to a utility pole at the scene of the accident. The “ghost bike,” like others placed around Richmond, was put there anonymously. It served both as a memorial to Lanie and a reminder of the life-shattering impact distracted driving can have on families.

Lanie’s death certainly had an incalculable impact on her family. She was survived by her parents, two sisters, and two grandmothers.

Lanie was a graduate of James Madison University and a multi-sport athlete who enjoyed playing basketball, soccer, and field hockey. She was a passionate and talented foodie, and received a scholarship to the Art Institute’s culinary program after placing second in the nation in a teen chef competition in 2006.

The year of Lanie’s death, a group of 50 Richmond cyclists came together to organize a memorial bike ride. The six-mile ride started at a scenic overlook and ended at the intersection of River Road and Bridgeway Road — the spot where Lanie lost her life. The memorial ride was held again the following year.

Daniel Pritchett, who was Lanie’s boyfriend at the time of her death, recalls how the memorial rides came to be. He says that the ride organizers knew he was going to make the ride himself as a tribute to Lanie, and they didn’t want him to do it alone.

Even in death, Lanie inspired drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to exercise caution on the road. Her memorial rides were as much about raising awareness as they were about remembering her. To this day, her ghost bike memorial still stands, as a solemn reminder that even a single moment of distraction might end in tragedy.

Every July 29, the ghost bike serves as a kind of gathering place. Lanie’s mother and friends decorate it with lights. The police officer who was first to arrive at the scene of the accident has occasionally joined them there, as have other people who were involved in the hit-and-run trial.

Lanie would no doubt be proud if she could see the posthumous impact she’s had on fellow cyclists and drivers.

In life, Lanie was passionate about encouraging her friends and family to drive safely. Her mother, Patty Kruszewski, says Lanie didn’t like it when she talked on the phone while driving: “Whenever she was riding with me, and I would reach for a ringing phone, she was quick to snatch it up and tell the caller, ‘Mom’s driving; this is Lanie. What would you like me to tell her?’”

Patty adds that she quit talking on the phone while driving after her daughter’s death.

“She was so full of life,” says her mother. “Smart, beautiful, athletic, and, most of all, kind to everyone.”