Earlier today I posted about the vigil being arranged for 23-year-old Ilia Pankin who died Monday after being struck while cycling through the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards in Beverly Hills. MAF regulars Sean, Steve, Blogdowntown’s Eric, myself and new recruit MIchael agreed to forego our regular Wednesday evening river romp and instead roll over and do honor to the memory of the young man.
The five of us were the first to arrive at the fountain and for a few minutes it looked like we might be the only ones, but other cyclists started getting to the landmark until we were about 20 strong. At some point a KCBS/KCAL newsvan arrived, and after that so did one from KABC. Candles were lighted. Conversation was muted as we somberly milled about amidst rolling cameras and tried to come to grips with the tragedy.
And then unexpectedly, Ilia’s mother and family members and friends were there with us and any emotional separation we had to the tragedy was erased as we stood awkwardly before this woman in the midst of her inconsolable grief and loss. Even so, she was able to express how grateful she was to see us there for her son whose picture she placed at the base of the fountain and surrounded with candles and flowers. She told us that he was Ukranian by birth and that bicycling was his absolute passion and he left behind a 14-year-old sister and that the funeral would most likely be at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She told us that a UPS package arrived today with a new bike helmet he had ordered last week. When she put her arms around me in tears I hugged her back and told her how remarkably strong she was and how sorry I was. I didn’t know what else to say so I just held her.
Later, before we left for the ride home, I knelt before the picture she had brought and I looked into his eyes. Again I was at a loss for words other than “Rest in peace, Ilia.”
UPDATED (09.21): The vigil warranted inclusion in KCAL’s 10 p.m. newscast last night. Youtube video embed is after the jump.