On Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m., neighbors gathered as a ghost bike — a vintage bicycle painted white and rendered useless by the removal of its tires — was hung on the railing outside 1912 E. Lehigh Ave. in remembrance of bicyclist Gregory Loper.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia organized the candlelight vigil and placement of the bike as a symbolic tribute to Loper, the 49-year-old father of 11 who was struck and killed by an allegedly drunken driver on Friday, Nov. 18.
The vigil, held at the intersection of Lehigh Avenue and Jasper Street in Kensington, was marked by anger and sadness at the loss of the family man.
Police have arrested Brett Truskin, 22, of Ivyland, Bucks County, who they believe was behind the wheel of his mother’s Toyota RAV4 when it struck Loper. The victim was riding his bicycle in a bike lane along the 1900 block of E. Lehigh Ave. when he was struck by an SUV, police said. The vehicle struck parked cars but the driver kept going, police added. The SUV then collided with a vehicle driven by a man who was transported to a hospital for treatment.
Truskin has been charged with a list of offenses, including homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while DUI, and driving under the influence.
During last week’s rain-soaked memorial, Loper’s family, friends and strangers touched by the story of his death huddled under a canopy of umbrellas. Many seemed outraged by a legal system that apparently had allowed Truskin to go free just hours after his possible involvement in another drunken-driving incident.
According to court records, on Nov. 17, the day before the incident that claimed Loper’s life, Truskin was charged with driving under the influence after a three-car crash on I-95. A judge released Truskin on his own recognizance.
After a short speech by Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Renee Cuffee, Loper’s sister-in-law, told the crowd that Loper’s family is seeking a life prison term without parole for the driver.
ldquo;Look at my baby sister. Look! Look what he left behind,” Renee said, referring to Bettie Cuffee, the victim’s wife.
Bettie Cuffee thanked those in attendance for their support of her family. She also expressed her belief that justice would be served.
ldquo;You never know when Judgment Day is gonna come, ‘cause God judge everybody,” Loper’s widow said. “And when your Judgment Day come, my husband’s going to be there. You’re going to see him sitting there and he’s going to ask you why? Because I asked him why he leave me with a water bill that I can’t pay?”
Afterward, the tone was more uplifting at the Cuffee-Loper household as family members recalled pleasant memories of Gregory Loper. His own children, his 12 grandchildren and his many friends talked with smiles on their faces as they shared their stories.
“They take the good ones and leave the wrong ones,” his sister-in-law Renee said.
Markedia Cuffee, 25, is Loper’s stepdaughter but noted that she had never known another father. “He was a good man,” Cuffee said. “Loved his grandbabies.”
She explained that Loper was proud of his kids, especially that they’d graduated from high school. Three other children under age 12 currently attend grade school.
Education was very important to him, agreed Loper’s children. Loper recently helped his stepdaughter Sabrina to pass her final exams.
“He said, ‘Go to school, stay in school and have a good job,’” said 10-year-old Sapphire Cuffee.
Loper’s family painted the picture of a dedicated man who worked hard to provide for his family.
“He was a hardworking man. He felt less of a man if he sat in the house,” Sabrina Cuffee, 20, said.
“He did anything to keep us healthy and good,” added Sapphire.
Loper was a big fan of science-fiction, especially the Star Wars film series. Such fond memories made it particularly difficult for the family to look back on the events that took Loper’s life.
His wife said she was home in bed with one of her grandchildren when the news broke that someone had been hit on Lehigh Avenue.
“Oh my God, that don’t make no sense. Somebody got hit on Lehigh Avenue again,” she remembered saying.
“God bless,” she added as she watched the news report.
She never figured that it was her husband.
“I’m looking at the ambulance going past (the house) and all along they going to pick him up and I didn’t even know it was him,” she said.
Cuffee has concluded that she must be happy for what she had. And she’s relieved, she said, to know that her husband in a better place.
ldquo;He up there with God now. He with his mother, his uncle, his dad, his little cousin, his aunt. He’s fine and I don’t gotta worry about him. He don’t gotta worry about his feet hurting,” Cuffee said.
Loper’s stepson Charles Cuffee, 24, was comforted by that same notion but still directed his anger at the court system and the suspect in the fatal incident, Truskin. He should not have been given the chance to get behind the wheel of another vehicle, Cuffee said.
“The driver didn’t take my dad, the judge took my dad when he let (Truskin) go,” he said.
Cuffee and his other siblings said they are trying to stay strong for their mother.
ldquo;He was my mom’s backbone,” Sabrina Cuffee said, “and she was ours, so it’s hard, but we have to be strong for her.” ••
The family welcomes assistance with funeral expenses. Call 267-269-3369 or send e-mail to Markedia Cuffee at firstname.lastname@example.org.