Richmond biking community remembers cyclist killed in New York

Two friends leave notes on the memorial for Robyn Hightman, a Richmond cyclist killed in New York.

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.” 

A photo of Robyn Hightman placed on their memorial in Federal Park.

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.” 

Friend Thomas Carr and grandmother Lena Miller embrace during Robyn Hightman’s vigil. Carr had just shared that he “probably wouldn’t be alive” without Hightman.

 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.

1 Comment

  1. I am Robyn Hightman’s father, as heartbroken as I am over my daughter’s tragic death in New York City on June 24th, it concerns me little to nothing has been done to address the accident or safety for those who bike, two more cyclists have perished in that area, since your story, though just published, the number is now 15 for the year! The driver who killed her, Antonio Garcia, is probably out doing deliveries today. My wife & I bike here in Charlottesville, but have found the roads to be unsafe for cyclists. We have had glass beer bottles thrown at us and often it is often necessary to ride outside of the bike lanes because of parked vehicles and debris such such as glass in the lane. Nothing is going to bring back my Robyn, however it is very important to me that other cyclists do not perish on the road. On Facebook and through eMail, Robyn and I were chatting as well as exchanging messages the last weekend before this tragedy, she made me smile. It was not until yesterday anyone from the press has reached out to me to learn about Robyn’s life from my perspective. This is not something which could be learned from a police report or Googling things about her on the Internet. There have been times when Robyn had asked for space while she worked through feelings about her life so far. I gave her this to her, but was always available to help & support in whatever way she needed, whether it was money to pay a security deposit on an apartment, scan some of her art for a portfolio, a set of bike rollers, to check out a bicycle she had seen on Craigslist, or just to talk. When she needed or wanted it I was there 100% and have been for her entire life. I ask you to please help those of us, friends, family and even people who have just learned about this wonderful young woman from her passing, by celebrating the life she had and to assist in seeing her dreams & aspirations to help others live on. My hope is she in a happier place and my loss saves others, this carnage has to end!

    As it stands now, the New York bicycle club and other of Robyn’s friends are planning to planning on bringing some of Robyn’s ashes on a ride from New York, through Charlottesville & Fluvanna County to her last home of Richmond. It is my hope my wife and I can ride from Charlottesville to Richmond on our tandem.

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