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A Father’s Dread: Grieving Dad Turns Agony to Activism for ‘Incredible’ Daughter

Thoughts of my daughter are always on my mind. Holidays used to be something I looked forward to; now they are often a painful reminder of my child that was lost. Father’s Day is no exception for I will not receive a card, e-mail, text message or phone call.

12:01 AM EDT on June 18, 2023

Robyn Hightman (inset) was killed in 2019. File photo: Julianne Cuba

It will be four years, on June 24th, that my 20-year-old daughter Robyn lost their life doing bicycle messenger work in New York City, when a for-hire driver blocked the bicycle lane and the speeding distracted driver of a box truck knocked them to the ground and then crushed them into the road.

A cabbie had to pursue the truck driver who had left the scene. When the truck driver returned to where my daughter lay dying, he said he had no idea that anyone had been hit.

On this tragic day, the majority of my hopes, joys and dreams were taken from me. Thoughts of my daughter are always on my mind. Holidays used to be something I looked forward to; now they are often a painful reminder of my child that was lost. Father’s Day is no exception for I will not receive a card, e-mail, text message or phone call.

Robyn, who used the pronouns they/them, was an incredible bicyclist. Early in 2019, they were accepted as an ambassador to the Hagens Berman Supermint international UCI women’s racing team and to ride with Spin Peaks of New York City. Often my daughter would share with me, through Facebook, these accomplishments.

Robyn Hightman competing.

A week before Robyn lost their life, they road from Richmond to New York City, a 350-mile trip, in three days on a single gear track bike, with their messenger bag heavy from belongings for the trip. It was no surprise to me, the weekend before my daughter was killed, they won many of the track races at the Kissena Velodrome; Robyn had Olympic potential. However, they were much more than an athlete, excelling in many areas, including music and art.

Early in elementary school, Robyn started playing the flute and for their very first recital composed the piece they played. As an artist, Robyn was quite adept, working in all sorts of media including clay, paint, pastels, pen and ink, plaster and photography. One aspiration my daughter had was to work with the Time In Children's Arts Initiative, which is a program for at-risk children in the New York City public school system.

Beyond Robyn’s talents, they were a friend to many, in part from the boundless energy, optimism and talent my daughter brought. On so many levels, Robyn and I were kindred souls, sharing much in common, as such the day they died a large part of me was lost as well. More than a recondite feeling of emptiness from my daughter’s death, in this nothingness lies a broken heart which shall not heal until there is no longer breath within me. 

After my daughter’s death, individuals with Families for Safe Streets reached out to provided me with support. FSS is an organization for those who have lost someone or who was injured by traffic violence. One of the founders, Amy Cohen’s, 12-year-old son Sammy was killed by the driver on a van in October 2013. She often says that FSS is a group you never want to be a member of.

As nothing will bring Robyn back, I have turned my loss into advocacy, out of the hope my efforts save others the grief that I know. This has meant working on campaigns toward #ZeroTrafficDeaths, in the state of Virginia speaking before the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council, and on a national level by promoting initiates such as automatic emergency breaking systems, truck trailer under-side guards and ways to reduce distracted driving. I would rather be cheering on Robyn, this is what I have now.

Jay Hightman has turned his agony into activism.

As a way of honoring my daughter Robyn, Families for Safe Streets, which is part of Transportation Alternatives, is raising money through a GoFundMe campaign towards the production of signs to be posted near where someone has lost their life in a crash; one possible sign option from the Washington D.C. chapter is shown below. For each $500 raised, about 100 signs can be produced. The intention is to bring greater awareness to these preventable losses and to promote action so others might not lose someone to unsafe roads.

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