Dan Peterson, R.I.P.: Remembering hit-and-run victim who elevated bike-safety concerns

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Friends and family describe Dan as a charismatic and caring individual who always managed to get along with everyone -- and bring different groups of people together. He owned a car, but loved to bike as much as possible. He grew up in New London, Wisconsin and lived in Madison for several years before relocating to Denver, where he worked in public relations and marketing. He liked to hike, go to concerts, fly-fish, hunt, ski, play kickball, softball -- anything that got him outside.

"The first thing that comes to mind -- he was definitely a kid at heart," says Matt Peterson, 29, Dan's younger brother. "He always lived in the moment. He acted like a kid when he could but was very professional and adult when he needed to be.... He was the first one to laugh at himself and always tried to make other people laugh."

At the time of his death, he was in between jobs, but had a second interview lined up, his mother says.

He was also considering changing career paths. Dan visited with his mother and a few other family members in South Dakota just a week before he died. "He told me the night before he left, 'Y'know, mom, I feel like I need to do something more with my life. I want to help people more.' We talked about him...going back to school." He was considering traveling or maybe doing the Peace Corps, she says.

He never got the chance.

"He was always striving to try and make a difference," she says. "That impressed me."

She was also surprised when she visited her son's apartment to see that he kept a calendar with simple, monthly goals that all seemed very family-oriented. He wanted to make it back Wisconsin for a visit. He hoped to spend time gardening with his mother, golf with his father, go running with his sister.

"How insightful.... They were just really amazing," she says, adding, "Sometimes you think you idolize people who have gone, but he was very, very kind."

His friend Abby Laib says she has been seeing signs of Dan since he died. In Wisconsin for the funeral, she and some of his friends went canoeing -- and a bald eagle followed them along a river, she says. "It was just staring at us and even bowed its head to us."

And at a service for Dan in Wisconsin, they played his favorite song, "Rise," by Eddie Vedder -- and forty or fifty barn swallows began flying around, she adds.

"I think we've all been taking comfort in seeing little signs," Laib says.

His close friend and former roommate Kate Chambers, who spent all day at the hospital with Dan, says his compassion for others was inspiring. "He made everyone feel just honored. He was honored to be in your presence. He was so happy for you, no matter what.... It's just a gentle, gentle spirit that he had."

She says that some called him "the great unifier" because he connected so many people. "I definitely felt like I was part of a community once I met him."

She adds, "Maybe sometimes he didn't even realize the joy that he brought to other people's lives."

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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin