HUMBOLDT PARK — Family and friends are mourning the death of Jezniah Smith, a 34-year-old who was killed while riding his bicycle in Humboldt Park earlier this month.
"He rode his bike everywhere. He was just joyful. He always had a smile on his face," said his mother, Emma, as tears welled up in her eyes. "He loved listening to rap, biking and drawing superheroes."
Emma Smith, along with a couple dozen others, turned out to a ghost bike ceremony at Division and Sacramento avenues Monday night to remember Smith, who was the first bike fatality of the year. Ghost bikes are installed at locations where cyclists have been killed.
Smith's family members (from left) Icy Smith, Artrenia Bowman and Emma Smith at the ghost bike ceremony Monday evening. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
On Jan. 11 around 10:30 p.m., Smith was riding his bicycle at Division and Sacramento avenues when he was struck by a 36-year-old man driving a Chevy Cruze, police said. He was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Smith lived with his mother in Humboldt Park, just blocks away from the fatal crash. That evening he went out to go to the store, but never returned, his mother said. She went out looking for him, calling his name and asking neighbors if they had seen him, but found no answers.
"I was walking around lost," she said.
Smith's sister, Icy, who lives in suburban Berwyn with her husband, said she felt sick because she knew something was wrong when he didn't return from the store. She and her mom didn't find out Smith had died in a bicycle crash until last Monday, four days after the crash, when the morgue was able to identify his body.
"I sat there on the phone, and broke down in tears," his mother said.
Smith had a cognitive learning disability, which his mom likened to autism. He received financial assistance from the government and was unable to work.
Before the fatal crash, Smith had been having a difficult year, according to family and friends. His longtime friend died of cancer in 2015, which devastated him. Despite this, several of Smith's family members said he always had a smile on his face.
"He was happy. He didn't have a mean spirit. He would always say, 'Take care!' as he left and give you a wet kiss," said Artrenia Bowman, Smith's stepsister.
Smith's death was not only felt by his family, but also Chicago's cycling community. A group of cyclists who didn't know Smith attended the ceremony and embraced Smith's family, with one of them saying, "We're your family now."
Bowman filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday in Cook County Circuit Court. In the lawsuit, Bowman's attorney argues the driver failed to exercise due care to avoid the collision, among other complaints, according to the Tribune. The family is seeking $50,000 in damages.
Smith's family is raising money for funeral costs through an online crowdfunding campaign. As of Monday evening, the campaign had raised $415 toward its $2,500 goal.