Pickup hits Chicagoan after collision knocks her into oncoming lane.
A Chicago bicyclist died Saturday after she was struck by a pickup pulling a horse trailer during the Proctor Cycling Classic.
Elizabeth Kobeszka, 24, of Chicago was riding with a pack of cyclists west on Brimfield-Jubilee Road about 9:30 a.m., about three miles from the finish line, when a competitor collided with her. The impact sent her into the eastbound lane, where she was struck by the truck, according to police reports.
Kobeszka was competing in the Women's Cat 4 road race during the 20th annual classic. The course -- a 17-mile loop through the Brimfield area, which is near Peoria -- is open to traffic during the race.
Witnesses said they saw Kobeszka's head go under the driver's side tires of the trailer, which was pulled by a truck driven by Thomas S. Milligan, 48, of Quincy.
Milligan reduced his speed and pulled the passenger side wheels of the trailer off the roadway, according to police reports.
"Our prayers and thoughts are with the family of the young lady," Milligan said from his home Sunday. "I've got two daughters, and I can't even imagine what they're going through. It was a tragic thing. It's just a shock."
Kobeszka, a member of XXX Racing-AthletiCo, was wearing a helmet. She was taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria with multiple injuries, including head injuries, and was pronounced dead at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, said Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll.
Reports indicate that a lead car and a trail car accompanied runners.
An autopsy is scheduled for today. The Peoria County Sheriff's Department and the coroner's office are investigating.
Kobeszka's mother, Vickie Kobeszka of Findlay, Ohio, remembers her second of three daughters as a giver. Elizabeth Kobeszka competed in triathlons, graduated as valedictorian from her high school class, graduated from Northwestern University and worked as a sales representative for Johnson & Johnson.
"Anything and everything she did, she put her heart and soul into it," Vickie Kobeszka said Sunday night.
She said she hopes her daughter's story will prompt organizations to more strongly consider the safety of riders.
"I'm appalled at the fact that our cities and towns and the cycling and the runner races, that they don't take more precautions for all the safety that is needed," she said. "We can't go back now. But if I could beg any of these organizations ... if they want to do something in Beth's name ... she needs to open people's eyes to say we need to block off these roads."
Elizabeth Kobeszka was scheduled to compete in Sunday's Women's Cat 3 Criterium.
Cyclists have also expressed concern for their safety during the race, especially because the course is open to traffic. On Sunday, a forum letter in the Peoria Journal Star asked cycling clubs to consider unsafe conditions during races where vehicles and riders share the road.
"Anyone traveling (Brimfield-Jubilee Road) frequently is aware that it is narrow and hilly," wrote Kay Allen of Morton. "Cars travel at least 60 mph, and this is an extremely busy road with cars, farm trucks and farm equipment traveling between Chillicothe, Dunlap, Princeville and Peoria. ... Unless closed to traffic, its use could result in a serious accident."
Beth Christiansen, one of Kobeszka's teammates, said cyclists may ask for routes closed to traffic in the future.
"Once we get over the initial raw feeling, a lot of us will advocate closing courses," Christiansen said.
Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy said Sunday that race organizers have handled the event with class each year. He said he can't remember another fatality stemming from the race.
"This is just what it is -- it's an accident," McCoy said.
However, he said a closed track would be safer than an open road race, but he didn't say whether he would advocate the course to be closed in the future.
"That's something we're going to have to meet with the Proctor people about," he said.
Greg Springborn, Proctor Cycling Classic coordinator and president of the Peoria Bicycle Club, declined comment.
"It's an ongoing investigation," he said. "That's all I can say."
Kobeszka's teammates drew hearts with her name and the years 1983-2007 printed inside on their jerseys for Sunday's Criterium in downtown Peoria. A moment of silence was observed for Kobeszka as church bells signaled the noon hour. Riders then took a silent lap around the one-mile course.
Christiansen said she'll remember Kobeszka for her energy and competitiveness. She recalled one race in which Kobeszka was extremely ill but pushed to the front of her team's pack to help draft.
"She'd work her heart and soul out for you," Christiansen said. "She was the ultimate team player, and she'd tell you what she thought. People respected that."
Christiansen said Kobeszka turned up the volume on her car radio before Saturday's race to drown out the music playing from the start/finish line.
"She goes, 'What is that? Kenny G?'" Christiansen said with a smile. "It was just a Beth moment."
Jacqueline Koch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aaron Frey can be reached at email@example.com.