WICKER PARK — The parents of a bike messenger injured by a hit-and-run driver earlier this month in front of a bakery in the 1400 block of North Milwaukee Avenue are appealing to the public for help in finding witnesses to the accident.
Dustin Valenta, 27, a Lakeview resident and employee of Cut Cats Courier, which specializes in delivery for restaurants, was hurt about 11:30 a.m. Feb. 8 while riding his bike on Milwaukee Avenue near Wood Street, said his mother, Terry O'Bryan.
Valenta, who does not have medical insurance, has been in the intensive care unit of Northwestern Memorial Hospital since the accident, O'Bryan said, with "a punctured lung, 23 broken ribs, both shoulder blades broken, left collarbone broken, and [he] has cracks in vertebrae as well as a slight crack at base of skull."
"Slowly but surely, he's getting better day by day, doctors are happy with his progress, and we expect him to be moved out of ICU" Wednesday, said O'Bryan, who credited her son's recovery to the fact he was wearing a helmet and is in "excellent physical condition being a yogi and a vegan."
O'Bryan said her son, who lives in Lakeview, was returning home from a yoga class in Wicker Park and not on work-related business when he was struck.
"The only thing he remembers is being doored and laying in the ambulance and hearing someone say, 'A truck just hit that guy,'" O'Bryan said.
O'Bryan and her attorney Michael Keating believed Valenta's injuries were too significant to have been sustained by a dooring — when a motorist opens a car door into the path of a passing bicyclist — and have speculated that a second vehicle, perhaps a truck, was involved in the crash.
"We don't know with 100-percent certainty that he was hit by a truck. It seems possible, [but] it would be difficult to get that constellation of injuries from a dooring," Keating said.
The day after Keating was retained by O'Bryan on Sunday, he filed a lawsuit and a request to require the Citibank branch near the incident "to not do anything to their security cameras from that day."
Keating plans to get a copy of the footage and view it Wednesday, and said he believes there might be clues on the video that could help determine what occurred on Feb. 8.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the department brought a trauma patient to Northwestern from the 1400 block of North Milwaukee around the time of the accident. He said Fire Department reports said a bicyclist had been hit by a car, but that was based on information from a 911 call.
Valenta is a physical theater actor who grew up mostly in Minnesota and moved to Chicago to study theater at DePaul. As he recovers, his divorced parents are by his side on alternating shifts.
A landscape designer based in Northern California, O'Bryan, 57, took the first flight she could get after hearing of the incident and has been spending days at her son's bedside. Her ex-husband, Kurt Valenta, 59, an outdoor education instructor who lives in Vermont, said he drove 14 hours through a snowstorm to get to Chicago after flights were snowed in on the East Coast. He dedicates his nights to his son.
"We hope to get to the bottom of this," Kurt Valenta said Wednesday. "Dustin has always been a very safe rider and doesn't take risks. When I heard he had an accident and got doored, it wasn't consistent. You don't get that hurt from a dooring."
O'Bryan added: ""We want to find this person because it will help with medical bills, which will be astronomical."
In addition to an online fundraising campaign that's about halfway to a goal of $10,000, Valenta's co-workers are putting together a fundraiser Monday at Bangar's and Lace, and "The Tiny Fix Bike Gang" recently announced an all-day bake sale fundraiser at The Bike Lane, 2130 N. Milwaukee Ave.