CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Losing a child is one of the worst experiences a parent can ever endure. For Charlottesville native Jay Hightman, that nightmare became a reality when his daughter Robyn was killed while cycling in New York City last summer.
Robyn Hightman, who used they/them pronouns, was only 20 years old when they tragically died in a collision on June 24, 2019. Robyn participated in many cyclist groups, and was highly involved in the biking community. Several friends and family believe Robyn had Olympic potential.
Now, a year later, Robyn’s dad Jay Hightman continues to fight for safety as a founding member of the Richmond chapter of Families for Safe Streets.
“We don’t need to live in a world where losing someone to road violence or to traffic violence is acceptable,” Hightman said.
Robyn had a life of cycling and adventures ahead. Jay is feeling the pain just as strong a year after the collision.
“Any event, be it a year of a tragedy like the collision that took my daughter Robyn’s life, Christmas or a birthday, Easter...all those bring a rush of emotions,” he said.
To get through the tough times, Jay and his wife Lindsay Hawn have found strength in activism. “So we became one of the founding members of the Richmond chapter families for safe streets,” Hightman said.
Although infrastructure such as bike lanes and sidewalks provide a solution, Jay says they are not always accessible. “As much as we possibly can, where there’s a bike lane, we try to stay in it. However, it’s not always possible,” he said.
Robyn is not the only Hightman child that has been struck by a vehicle while cycling. “Frankly, it happened twice last year. Rachel who was an extremely good cyclist twice was hit by vehicles,” He said.
Rachel, Robyn’s sister who is a student at the University of Virginia, was T-boned by a distracted driver on Preston Avenue last year.
“I nearly lost both my children in a two and a half week period of time,” Jay Hightman said, fighting back tears.
Rachel was transported to a hospital and suffered non-life-threatening injuries, but her bike was destroyed. This only heightens his concerns for cyclists out on dangerous roads without proper bike lanes.
“I can’t tell you the fear I felt learning that,” Hightman said.
Jay and Rachel continue to speak out at Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle County Supervisor’s meetings to fight for cyclists risking their lives.
“They’re concerned about, you know, 15 feet taken away of embankment or, you know, some trees, being removed so that would happen. I get it, I understand property values,” he said.
But Jay says, you cannot put a price on a loved one. “If you lose a life because of an unsafe road condition. There’s nothing you can do to bring them back,” he said. “You can plant other trees.”
Jay hopes the amount of outdoor activity that came with the coronavirus pandemic will make people fight for safer streets in the community.
“I’m hoping that people will will reflect on what has happened during this huge time of crisis and actually look at the things that improve people’s quality of life,” he said.
Overall, it is Robyn’s legacy that will carry this movement for miles to come. “The number of lives that they touched and changed and how you know as I learn more and more, it’s astounding,” Hightman said.
Although Hightman believes safer roads and infrastructure will be the most effective way to protect cyclists and pedestrians, he encourages all bikers to invest in a small helmet or body camera to be proactive. He says that one of his biggest frustrations is Robyn’s collision was not properly documented.