Losing one of their own

Friends and fam­ily gathered for a vi­gil in Kens­ing­ton for Gregory Loper, a bi­cyc­list who was killed by an al­leged drunk­en driver.

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 cuffeemarke­dia@ya­hoo.com.

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