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Bicyclist, lawyer killed in traffic remembered at candlelight vigil

Copy phoNeill Townsend bicyclist who was struck killed by truck when he tried avoid an open car door near North

Copy photo of Neill Townsend, a bicyclist who was struck and killed by a truck when he tried to avoid an open car door on the near North Side Friday October 5, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 7, 2012 6:07AM

Choking back tears, Jane Townsend said her youngest son, Neill, really enjoyed riding his bicycle.

“He had been biking for some time,” she said when reached at her home in Lexington, Ky. by telephone. “He was a wonderful guy.”

On Friday morning, Neill Townsend, 32, was riding his bicycle on the Near North Side when a semitrailer struck him after he swerved to avoid an open car door.

Shortly before 9 a.m., the truck was traveling southbound on Wells Street approaching Oak Street at the same time Townsend rode his bicycle in the same direction, police said.

A man opened the door of a parked car, and Townsend swerved away from the door and either fell or was thrown from the bike and landed in the path of the truck, authorities said.

Townsend, of the 1500 block of North LaSalle, died at the scene, authorities said.

Jane Townsend said her son moved to Chicago to study law at DePaul University. He graduated and was admitted to the bar in 2009, according to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.

Between 2009 and 2010, Townsend had worked as a law clerk in the legal research division of the office of Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, officials said. And friends said later Friday he worked for a company called Lunatik, where he was an operations manager, but also provided legal advice from time to time for the West Loop design firm.

Though she preferred to have him live closer to home, Jane Townsend said she understood her son’s decision to stay after he got a job in the city.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

“It’s just shocking and devastating,” Townsend’s mother said. “I don’t know how I’ll ever get over this. I’ll miss him deeply.”

On Friday night, some 50 to 60 friends and others gathered at the crash scene to remember Townsend.

Brooke Lautz, who went to law school and worked with Townsend, said at the vigil: “Neill was a really good person, who always put others before himself — he was thoughtful, sweet and funny...he was a great teammate and a great friend.”

In addition to cycling through the city, friends recalled that he loved soccer, music, reading the Huffington Post and Hunter S. Thompson’s work.

But in addition to the impromptu eulogies, many in the group wanted to remind drivers to be on the lookout for cyclists sharing the road.

After Friday’s crash, the man in the car was cited for opening a car door in traffic, according to Chicago Police spokesman News Affairs Officer Daniel O’Brien. The Major Accident Investigation Unit is handling the probe.

Later Friday, Townsend’s landlord recalled how he rode his bike regularly.

Nancy Los had rented an Old Town garden unit to Townsend for the past three years; he lived alone.

She said he’d stop by her place, just above him, to visit her and her husband. Los was particularly appreciative that Townsend had taken the time to see her husband when he was hospitalized.

“He was a truly nice person, a great guy,” Los said.

Contributing: Diana Novak

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