Hannah Eason, News Editor
Thomas Carr remembers his longtime friend, Robyn Hightman, as charismatic, happy and always willing to help others. Hightman, a Virginia native, cyclist and former VCUarts student, died last Monday after being struck and killed by a delivery truck in Manhattan.
Over 100 cyclists, coworkers and friends of Hightman attended a vigil and bike ride Wednesday night at Federal Park in Richmond.
“They wanted to be friends with everybody,” Carr said. “Always talking to everybody, and always giving hugs.”
Hightman found a passion for bicycling through the Richmond community. The 20-year-old previously operated Quickness RVA, a bicycle-based courier service in the Richmond area.
Hightman participated in many cyclist groups, including DFL, Rag & Bones Bicycle Cooperative, Spin Peaks Racing and the Bicycle Film Festival, according to friends. Hightman was also an ambassador for the Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling Team, a women’s professional cycling team.
“Robyn was so, so special. Their enthusiasm about life and bikes was unrivaled, and they quickly became the heart and soul of our club,” said Lily Light, who was initiated into DFL the same time as Hightman. “We are completely broken and shattered.”
Hightman previously served as DFL’s president, organizing and running many bike races.
Most notably, Hightman hosted and organized the Richmond-area Triple Crown race. The proceeds benefited Rise for Youth, an organization that supports community alternatives to youth incarceration.
“They overcame so much adversity in life while channeling their energy into riding, worked hard as a bike messenger, and pushed to foster inclusivity in cycling, encouraging those who identify as women, trans, non-binary, and/or gender variant to find a welcome place in our sport,” the Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling Team wrote in a Facebook post.
The team described Hightman’s application as the most passionate and in-depth out of hundreds. Hightman wrote about their bike and the outlet it served in their youth, which they said was entrapped by homelessness and abuse.
“My first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes,” Hightman wrote in the application, shared on Facebook by Hagens Berman. “My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space.”
Following the vigil, a memorial ride traveled across Richmond, stopping at Jefferson Park, Manchester Overlook, Oregon Hill Overlook and the intersection of Grace and Lombardy streets, before concluding in Scuffletown. At each stop, riders shared stories and memories of Hightman.
Hightman’s grandmother, Lena Miller, felt that “a light went out” with her grandchild’s passing.
“Our hearts are broken,” Miller said during the memorial. “That light will shine on in each of you.”
Miller shared a memory of Hightman’s Charlottesville High School award ceremony. Hightman received none other than the “Unstoppable Sparkle” award.
Many friends shared memories of Hightman’s determination, including VCU craft major Tyler Hurwitz. The junior said after meeting in the AFO program, they just “knew” they would be friends.
Hurwitz remembered Hightman’s perseverance in learning new skills such as welding for a class project, including an ambitious sculpture that cost Hightman sleep — but they finished it, Hurwitz said.
Hightman attended VCUarts from fall 2017 until May. Recently, they had moved to New York and were working for Samurai Messenger Services, a bike courier service.
Hightman’s friend, Thomas Carr, hopes that Hightman’s story doesn’t stop here. He asked that there be heavier prosecution for those that hit cyclists.
Carr also asked for support for foster children and those living in abusive homes.
“They made their own family,” Carr said. “Even though they didn’t have a lot of support when they came to Richmond.”
Carr said while many of their memories together involve difficult times, it was Hightman who helped him push through it.
“I probably wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t met [Hightman],” Carr said.
No charges have been filed against the truck driver who allegedly struck and killed Hightman in Manhattan. Initially, the driver did not stop after hitting Hightman. He later returned to the scene. Streetsblog NYC reported the driver, Antonio Garcia, said he did not know he had hit Hightman until he was told by another driver.
Hundreds of cyclists gathered in New York City Thursday for a memorial ride and “ghost bike” installation in honor of Hightman. After Hightman’s death on June 24, protestors gathered and blocked traffic on Sixth Avenue near the site of the crash.
New York City resident and Virginia native Maggie Miles said she was concerned that few outlets reported on Hightman’s death. Miles said she has also been hit while biking in the city, leaving her “terrified to get back on a bike for months.”
“When my bike was stolen, I started using Citi Bikes, but there is no law requiring a helmet, which makes them dangerous for both riders and bikers,” Miles said.
Hightman was the 12th cyclist to be killed in New York City this year. Cyclist Ernest Askew, 57, was stuck and killed on Thursday in Brooklyn, making him the 13th death of the year.
There were twelve cyclist deaths total in New York City during 2018.
A GoFundMe is raising funds for Hightman’s funeral costs.
The Commonwealth Times has removed an uncorroborated quote from this story.