Pitt, community mourn death of adviser, cyclist

By Josh Ye and Dale Shoemaker / The Pitt News Staff

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Local mourners gather to pay their respects to Susan Hicks, a former Pitt employee and cyclist.  Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Local mourners gather to pay their respects to Susan Hicks, a former Pitt employee and cyclist. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

The death of a cyclist and Pitt adviser has left the City — and the University — mourning this weekend.

Susan Hicks, who was the assistant director for academic affairs for the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies at Pitt, died after her bicycle was hit by a car near campus Friday evening. She was 34.

On Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m., close to 200 people gathered on the steps of the Carnegie Music Hall to remember Hicks at a vigil held in her memory. Hicks’ friends, students, colleagues and people from the Pittsburgh cycling community attended the memorial. Many embraced in sorrow and stood in the cold with tears in their eyes honoring Hicks.

Standing in a drizzle, some cyclists held up signs reading “Not one more” and “I Ride for Susan”.

“She would always go out of her ways to make sure that [her students] are taken care of,” Alyssa Waryanka, a Pitt senior studying communication and Russian and Eastern European studies, said.

As her academic adviser, Waryanka said Hicks cared about her on a personal level.

“Our adviser meetings always turn into an hours-long session of just how we are doing,” Waryanka said.

The vigil later relocated to the site of the accident, roughly 20 feet from Pitt’s Log Cabin by Forbes Avenue where a white ghost bike was chained and padlocked to a street post as a memorial to Hicks. Those at the vigil lit candles and left flowers near the bike. Similar white bikes have appeared around the country as a way to remember those killed while cycling.

According to Pittsburgh police, Hicks was traveling East on her bicycle on Forbes Avenue shortly before 5:30 p.m., near the Cathedral of Learning and Carnegie Music Hall, Friday when a male driver hit a car which struck her bicycle, according to Pittsburgh police spokesperson Sonya Toler.

Hicks was caught between the car that hit her and another car in front of her, Toler said.

Hicks died of blunt force trauma to her body, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner. She died at 5:27 p.m. Friday after paramedics rushed her to UPMC Presbyterian hospital.

Anne Marie Toccket, the vigil organizer who was also a colleague of Hicks, spoke to the attending mourners.

“In the days and weeks and months and years that follow this, I think the best way to honor Susan is to continue to come together and advocate for ways to make this city safer for everyone to use the streets,” Toccket said.

Toccket said she spoke to Hicks’ family Friday night and they expressed gratitude for the support from Pitt and the cycling community, though they did not attend the vigil.

Erica Hom, who had Hicks as her adviser for her past three years at Pitt, said the turnout for this vigil shows how beloved Hicks was.

“I see people from all of my classes that I had with this department. People loved her so much,” Hom, a senior studying linguistics and Russian and East European Studies, said.

Kathryn Loops, a graduate assistant at REES, said if she were to describe Hicks with one word, it would be “happy.” Hicks also made herself available to her students whenever they needed her help, Loops said.

“She always had her door open when students need help,” Loops said.

Holly Hickling, an adviser for Pitt’s Honor College, was a friend of Hicks at Pitt and choked back tears as she recalled the last time she had lunch with Hicks. While they ate, Hicks encouraged her to start biking to work.

“She is definitely a very big proponent of cycling,” Hickling said. “It is very shocking to have lost her.”

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