Candlelight Vigil Pays Tribute to Bicyclist Killed by Drunken Driver in SF

_MG_0605.jpgMore than a hundred people gathered to remember Nils Yannick Linke. Pictured (far left) is Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and (far right) SFMTA Board member Cheryl Brinkman. Photos by Kirk Moore
More than a hundred people turned out last night to remember a man most of them never knew. His abrupt and violent death at the hands of a drunken driver on the city's streets had enraged and saddened them, and led to calls for immediate improvements on one of San Francisco's most notorious traffic sewers. 

The candlelight walk and memorial vigil for 22-year-old Nils Yannick Linke, a German tourist killed nearly two weeks ago while riding a bicycle, began in the courtyard of the San Francisco Day School. A handful of people arrived well before 8 p.m. but the crowd swelled as the hour approached. Most arrived on their bicycles, which were packed into the corner of the courtyard that had a large bike rack.

The mourners, with their dozens of candles illuminating a foggy night, walked up the sidewalk on Masonic from Golden Gate Avenue to Turk Street, the intersection where Linke was killed. There, a small contingent of SFPD motorcycle officers halted traffic to allow them to pass and gather around a ghost bike in Linke's memory, locked on the southwest corner of Masonic and Turk.

"I'm here tonight celebrating Yannick's life, thanking him for loving San Francisco, thanking him for trusting the streets of San Francisco, and mourning the fact that this young man who had an incredible future ahead of him could also have been any one of us, any one of you," said District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who first learned of Linke's death while he was visiting Uruguay last week.

"What happened in the taking of his life only underscores so much more of a challenge in an urban environment like ours of what it means to make our streets safe, no matter the heinous act that took his life, but still a reminder that on a street like Masonic, and this isn't the only one, that every day bicyclists and pedestrians risk their lives." 

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Linke was traveling southbound on Masonic Avenue the night of August 13 when he was hit from behind by a car allegedly being driven by 36-year-old Joshua Calder, who admitted to police that he had been drinking. Calder, who lives in Oakland, has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run, and is expected back in court October 1. His girlfriend, who prosecutors say took over the wheel after the crash and drove away with Calder in the passenger seat, could also be facing charges.

Mirkarimi thanked the San Francisco District Attorney's office and the SFPD, who acted quickly to apprehend Calder. Assistant district attorneys Brian Buckelew, who is prosecuting the case, and Seth Steward, who heads up media relations, were in attendance. The memorial also brought together some of Linke's San Francisco friends and a number of bicyclists, advocates and neighbors seeking comfort and strength in a time of grief. 

"These tragedies underscore that we all need to be diligent when using our city streets. All of us are affected by these tragedies. Whether we are neighbors or visitors, the safety of our streets is everyone's responsibility," said Jarie Bolander, the president of the North Panhandle Neighborhood Association, who also remembered Melissa Dennision, a NOPA resident who was killed by a driver while walking across Fell Street less than a year ago.

The vigil was organized by Michael Helquist of BIKE NOPA, Fix Masonic, the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Day School and St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church.

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Marc Caswell, the program manager at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said later that it was a "community rallying around a man few of us knew" and "people coming together to heal the street, our neighborhood, the city and a shattered family overseas."

Caswell choked back tears as he read the following statement (PDF) on behalf of the Linke family. It was written by Yannick's sister, Sophia Linke.

Dear people from San Francisco, dear bicyclists, dear friends,

I am very happy to hear you are participating in the memorial vigil tonight. Until today I did not really understand that my brother Yannick actually died. Maybe the shock is too big – maybe all the organizing distracts me too much… But I simply cannot imagine a future without him, so that’s maybe why I’m also not trying to. But I’m sure - sooner or later I have to.

Simply put: Yannick was a happy person. He had bright blue eyes and a big smile that could lighten the tension or lift the sadness from a room. Being his older sister, I can certainly recall arguments and fights during our childhood, but he never held grudges, never held on to anger, and all misgivings were soon forgotten. He liked to joke around but took things serious when it had to be, he was a reliable person who would be there to help someone who needed it. He was also a person that stayed in contact with his friends all over the world. While there were extended periods his friends and family would go without seeing him, he always managed to send e-mails, call or just leave a message on your Facebook wall. He was always a part of our lives even while away on his travels.

Yannick grew up in Berlin, loved it, and knew it by heart. Despite his love of his home, his interest in travel was never-ending and though he only reached 22, he had already lived in two countries, and visited a number of others. At age 15 during secondary school he studied abroad in Switzerland for an entire year. He enjoyed Switzerland so much that he returned every summer for the past six years as a staff member for the Montreux Jazz Festival. He spoke fluent French and English, and this (French) not only allowed him the job at the festival, but his knowledge of English, as well as his love of languages allowed him to reach out to all different people from all different parts of the world, which is exactly what he did. Upon finishing secondary school in Germany he embarked on a half year journey that would take him from the salt flats of Bolivia, to the carnival in Buenos Aires, to the unscathed beauty of South America better known as Patagonia. The trip continued to New Jersey to visit a friend, then to Portland, Oregon, and finally back home. When he came back to Germany he decided to move to Vienna and study there. I went to visit him there this Easter and we had a wonderful time. It was nice to hike in the vineyards close to the city and he showed me the city like a professional tour guide. (What other places would Yannick have discovered had he stayed with us?)

While remaining stationary, a big hobby of his was sports. He stayed active both in Berlin and Vienna playing for local handball teams. When matches were on TV he would inch closer to the television set like a five-year-old boy. He truly loved the competitive aspect of sports, and the best that it can bring in an individual. During the Olympics, he would devote time to almost all the events and I often found it funny how excited he could get over an event you might not have even known he would care about. (His last post on facebook noted he had just learned how to play American handball during his stay in New York.)

While he loved to play sports, he never would be confused for a sports-nut, as his real passion was clearly and proudly music. He loved to listen to Jazz. I remember when he was a small boy (maybe 10 years old or younger) my parents went to a Jazz concert with us for his birthday. I found it really boring but remember that he loved it! Even as a child. But he was an open person and also listened to any other kind of music. Whenever I saw him, he gave me a CD with the newest songs he just got and sometimes he just send me one or two songs via skype because he thought I should listen to them.

When he was in Berlin it was always a guarantee that we will see each other. He cared for his family, his dad, mum and younger sister Merrit, who is 17 years old now. Well, I will be with you tonight and I hope that Yannick is with us too. I would like to quote him by saying: “We are stardust, billion year old carbon.”