CHICAGO — Samuel Bell was easygoing and lovable, known for the positive impact he made on many people — and for tilting his head back whenever he’d let out a loud laugh, his friends said.
Friends of Bell — a bicyclist who died after a driver hit him Thursday in River West — want him to be remembered for his personality and unmatched social skills.
“So many people need to know his story and need to know how amazing he was,” said Megan Saunsen, who met Bell in 2015 when she and her husband moved into the building he lived in. “I have some friends that are ‘meh’ — that are fine and they’re, you know, whatever — but Sam was just on another level. I feel like anything that I or anyone says isn’t even doing him justice.”
The crash that killed Bell happened about 11:45 a.m. Thursday, when a driver heading north on Milwaukee Avenue turned onto Huron Street and hit Bell in the intersection, police said. Bell, 44, of West Town, had been in a protected bike lane.
The driver was cited for failing to yield the right of way on a left turn, police said.
That the driver who hit Bell only received a citation and fine is “shocking [and] infuriating,” Saunsen said. Another of Bell’s friends, Kevin Kelin, said the lack of immediate repercussions for drivers when they hit someone is one of the most “upsetting” things about the ordeal, apart from losing Bell.
The day after Bell was killed, a group of his friends created a memorial at the crash site. They left mementos, handwritten notes and bundles of flowers.
“I’m just so grateful that we lucked out and we moved into that apartment and he became one of our closest and best friends in Chicago,” Saunsen said.
A friendship with Bell was practically part of the lease agreement, Saunsen said.
When Saunsen moved out after five years living below Bell last summer, she missed hearing his laugh through her ceiling so much that she jokingly requested he spend more time on the top floor of her family’s home, she said.
“He had such a good laugh,” Saunsen said. “I loved hearing that.”
A Mentor Who Created ‘Lasting Relationships’
Bell grew up in Galesburg in western Illinois and moved to Chicago in 2000 after graduating from Eastern Illinois University. He remained close to his family, and friend Camden Robertson was impressed by “how much he talked about them and cared for them,” he said.
“The love he had for his family was so amazing,” Robertson said. “I can’t imagine what his personal calendar looked like. As much time as he made for me — and I know he did that for a whole bunch of other friends — I don’t even know how he did it.”
Bell’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bell was dedicated to volunteering with Midtown Educational Foundation, where he and Robertson met about eight years ago. There, Bell worked with low-income youth, many of whom were deeply impacted by his mentorship, Klein said.
Angel Justiano, who went through the foundation as a high school student before beginning a decade-long career there in 2010, said as long he’s “always known the program with” Bell as a part of it. Bell was “always willing to hear you out and check in with you,” he said.
“He really helped me grow professionally,” Justiano said. “When I think of Sam, he’s the exact thing we want in a mentor and a friend. [He was a] person who’s going to go out and be that person you can always rely on, and be accessible and reliable.”
Justiano will remember Bell for his sharp outfits “and having the biggest smile on his face,” he said.
“He talked to every single person — every student, every volunteer, he wanted to know them on a personal level,” Justiano said. “That was kind of Sam in a nutshell: always willing to go the extra mile just to know someone and try to bring a smile to their face.”
Robertson said Bell’s “commitment to [the program] was unmatched.”
Though many people involved in the program “create lasting relationships,” Bell stayed in touch with “with every single one of the kids that he mentored and became close with the families,” Robertson said.
‘So Lucky To Have Him As A Friend’
Robertson said he and Bell were together “for several hours” the night before Bell was killed. As they parted ways, Robertson thought to himself, “Everyone around [Bell] is so lucky to have him as a friend,” he said.
“He could talk to anyone,” Robertson said.
Once, while on a road trip, Robertson and Bell stopped for food in Pontiac, Illinois, and Bell “recognized and began chatting” with their server at a diner, Robertson said.
Robertson assumed the server was a childhood friend of Bell’s, he said — but the server had been a barista in Bell’s office building. It was just one example of “the way he’d get to know anyone,” Robertson said.
“I felt like he was a close friend to me — he was — but I think he made everyone feel like a close friend,” Robertson said. “I can only imagine the number of people who are just really grieving his loss.”
Since Bell’s death, Robertson has tried to do what he saw Bell do for a grieving friend and “just be there for one another,” he said.
“I was thinking that this morning, ‘Gosh, he would have been the first person I would call to talk to and figure out … what should we do now,’” Robertson said. “And he would come up with the right idea.
“It’s just so unfortunate that this is the way that many people are going to hear about Sam for the first time. I just hope that his story might raise some awareness with folks who maybe hadn’t thought about bike safety.”
Klein said he will remember Bell as someone who “wants you to have fun and is there to make sure you have a good time, but who also genuinely cares about you and wants to get to know you.”
Klein and Bell would often text about silly and “stupid” things — small and often unimportant parts of their day, Klein said. Since his friend’s death, Klein “keeps seeing things” he wishes he could tell Bell about, he said.
Another of Bell’s close friends, Kyle Kerber, said he is “completely heartbroken.” Bell was Kerber’s best man in his wedding and is the godfather to his son, Knox.
Kerber said his kids were “completely devastated” when he told them Bell was killed.
Bell’s friends said he was known for his energy and spirit. Once, he met up with his friends in Wicker Park while dressed in a full marching band outfit, Robertson said.
“He brightened everyone’s day,” Robertson said. “Sometimes that meant a full marching band costume just because, and sometimes it meant grabbing a beer and talking to someone to make them feel good.”
Bell’s friends are working with Bike Lane Uprising to install a ghost bike in his honor.
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