Every time Patty Kruszewski passes the intersection at Bridgeway and River roads, she blows a kiss to her daughter.
The narrow, winding road near the Richmond-Henrico County line is where 24-year-old Lanie Kruszewski died July 29, 2012, when a driver who was texting hit her as she biked home from work.
A day after her death, a bike, painted white, appeared on the roadside — not even Patty Kruszewski knows who put it there. Chained to a city telephone pole just off the road, the “ghost bike” has remained a fixture there for the last six-and-a-half years.
Until last week, when a man who recently built a home nearby took it down after the city declined his request to remove it.
“I believe the bike to be a traffic hazard as drivers can be easily distracted by seeing a bike suddenly on the right side with no breakdown or biking lane present,” said David Pangraze, who owns the corner lot that abuts Bridgeway and River roads, in a Feb. 12, 2018, email to the city asking for “assistance in removing the bike.”
The bike was on city property, not Pangraze’s. A berm and a brick wall installed by Pangraze separate the home and the pole where the bike leaned, obstructing it from view.
“It’s not on his property. He really has no right,” Patty Kruszewski said. “He appointed himself enforcer.”
Passers-by often tell her the bike reminds them to slow down, to put down their phone, to drive more carefully.
“It’s a memorial,” she said. “It’s a way to remember Lanie, but it’s also a reminder.
“It’s a reminder that makes people uncomfortable, especially people who live there.”
Pangraze, a corporate sales executive for Nike Golf, and his wife, Kay, a real estate consultant and the local project manager for a California-based realty group behind a failed outlet mall in Hanover County, bought the property that faces Bridgeway Road in 2016. Last year, the couple built a 4,300-square-foot home on the property, which is just outside the city limits in Henrico. The home is worth just shy of $1 million, according to property records.
Pangraze refused to comment for this story.
Sharon North, a spokeswoman for the city’s Public Works and Public Utilities departments, confirmed the shoulder where the bike was located is just within the city limits.
The city’s policy for roadside memorials states that a resident must make a request through a council member and meet with a Transportation Engineering Division representative for approval. It mirrors a policy written by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The ghost bike was placed there anonymously, meaning no one asked for permission.
Similar white bikes have popped up across the country and world where cyclists were killed as somber reminders to drivers to share the road, according to a site that tracks the location of ghost bikes. The bikes, like most makeshift roadside memorials, are generally left alone.
Another ghost bike is chained to a street sign at the corner of Rowland and Main streets in the Fan District marking where Corey Frazier, a 21-year-old junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, was struck by a car while biking home from work last year.
The city policy states that its transportation division will investigate any complaint about a roadside memorial and will remove it if it “interferes with roadway usage or maintenance, visibility of signs or signals, impedes the traffic, presents a hazard should a motorist strike it, or if it poses a threat to public safety.”
The intersection where Lanie Kruszewski died has been the site of nine crashes since 2014, according to a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles database. Only one injury was reported, and distracted driving was cited in three of the nine — though the database does not specify the distraction.
The night of July 29, 2012, Elias Webb struck Lanie Kruszewski as he looked down at his phone to text a friend. She died 15 to 30 seconds after the impact, according to medical testimony at Webb’s criminal trial. He testified that he thought he’d hit a deer and continued driving.
Patty Kruszewski said she has forgiven Webb. She met with him once while he served a three-year sentence for leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury or death, and twice since his release.
Since her daughter’s death, Patty Kruszewski has pushed for legislation like Virginia House Bill 1811 that expands the state’s distracted driving law. The current law prohibits only reading email or texts, and texting as a means of communicating. As a new session of the state’s General Assembly just began, Patty Kruszewski said she wishes she could focus more on getting the legislation passed.
“I wish I wasn’t dealing with this,” she said. “It’s silly.”
Kruszewski’s death and the criminal case against Webb, which were widely reported, galvanized bicycling advocates and outraged many in the community. Now, the outrage has turned toward Pangraze. Posts on social media have called for boycotts of Pangraze’s employer, Nike, and retributive actions like dumping dozens of bikes in front of his home.
In his complaint to the city, Pangraze said the bike was placed illegally because there was no permit. Spokesmen for the city and police department wouldn’t say whether Pangraze’s decision to remove the bike was legal.
Other than Pangraze’s, the city fielded complaints from one other resident in the nearly seven years the bike had been on River Road. In 2017, a woman said the memorial was collecting trash and was a hindrance to school buses; the same woman had apparently complained previously that her children were “upset about seeing the ‘ghost’ bike,” according to emails provided by the city.
Doug Mawby, a city engineer, said in an email in response to the woman’s complaints that he didn’t believe the bike hindered motorists, buses, cyclists or pedestrians.
In response to Pangraze’s complaint, the city’s pedestrian, bicycle and trails coordinator, Jakob Helmboldt, told other city officials that “due to the sensitive nature, it was allowed to remain.”
In an email dated Jan. 5 to Patty Kruszewski, whom he had contacted a year ago about replacing the bike with a sign, Pangraze wrote: “As part of our yard clearing process, we will be removing the bike from the telephone pole. I will keep the bike in good standing at my home and can make it available to you at your convenience.”
Patty Kruszewski said she responded the next day, but “by that time, he’d already removed it.”
Pangraze offered to put up a sign.
“A sign is too generic,” Patty Kruszewski said. “He told me he had the bike. I told him, ‘If you want to negotiate, put the bike back.’ I can’t see how we’re going to meet in the middle.”
She took flowers and a wreath from Lanie’s grave in Hollywood Cemetery to the River Road site on Wednesday, and again Friday.
“I have some ideas of what would replace the bike — but they’re pretty specific, and he won’t like them,” said Patty Kruszewski, adding that she would accept a large sign shaped like a bike with lights or a stone or brick sculpture of a bike. She’s considering going before the City Council or contacting a councilman to get a permit for the bike.
Lanie Kruszewski was an avid cyclist and loved the outdoors, her mother said. She often refused rides home from work, choosing instead to bike, including the night she died.
“I think she’d be fighting for the bike,” Patty Kruszewski said.