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Photos: Ghost bike memorial honors hit-and-run victim Dan Peterson

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An all-white bicycle with a bouquet of yellow flowers is now locked to a street pole on Lincoln at 6th Avenue -- an intersection where a cyclist collided with a car whose driver allegedly stole the bike and fled from the scene.

The memorial, put up by local bike advocates who wish to remain anonymous, is there to honor Dan Peterson, thirty, who died early on Sunday, July 22, after a late-night hit-and-run. At this time, the Denver Police Department investigation is still ongoing, though officials have located the suspected hit-and-run vehicle -- and they're revealing more information about the case.

Based on witness accounts, DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson says that at the time of the accident, Peterson was allegedly biking southbound on Lincoln Street, which is a one-way street that goes northbound.

The crash occurred on Lincoln and Speer at 2:20 a.m. on the 22nd, and witnesses say they saw the vehicle -- described as a dark-colored or green Subaru hatchback -- drag the bicycle away. Afterward, the driver allegedly stepped out of the car and took the bicycle before fleeing the scene.

The vehicle may have had damage to the front end as well as a fractured windshield. The bicycle has not been recovered, but DPD reports that the vehicle was recovered the following day in Aurora.

Jackson says the DPD is looking into persons of interest for this case, but he couldn't offer more specifics at this time. While the cyclist was in the wrong because he was biking against traffic, the driver is also in the wrong for leaving the scene, Jackson says.

Anyone with information can call the main Crime Stoppers number, 720-913-STOP (7867).

The accident raises concerns for the local bike community, says one advocate who helped put together the memorial bike with several others; he wishes to remain anonymous in part because he is not sure it is legal to put up this kind of memorial on a public street.

"The people who hit him probably drive through this intersection a couple times a week," the bike advocate says. "Hopefully their conscience will just devour them."

Ghost bikes are small memorials that exist across the world and are more common in U.S. cities that experience more bike fatalities. (In New York City, for example, nearly one hundred have been put up).

A spokeswoman from Denver's Public Works agency, which oversees all streets and sidewalks, tells us that the city "respects the right of individuals to erect memorials as part of a grieving process when a tragedy occurs," adding that when a memorial is erected in the public "right of way," the department will leave it in place for thirty days.

As we reported earlier this month, the number of bike accidents in Denver has increased dramatically in recent years. Based on recent records, 2012 is on track to be much worse. This trend is happening in conjunction with a boom in the number of cyclists on the street as the city continues to expand its bike network.

Still, there have been few bike fatalities in Denver -- DPD records show that there's an average of fewer than two per year. Since 2004, there have been fourteen fatal accidents, including this most recent one -- the first of 2012. The most fatalities during a single year during that span was three, in 2007; two fatalities took place in 2010, and one last year.

But given the rise in total accidents and the growing presence of cyclists in the city, some advocates say there is reason to be concerned about how vehicles and cyclists are interacting in the street.

Page down for more photos and to read more about Peterson. For Mike Leake, a close friend of Peterson who spent most of the day biking with him on Saturday before he was killed, his death represents a shocking loss that no one could have anticipated.

"He was the definition of Colorado," Leake says. "He skied, boarded, hiked, biked, all that stuff.... His last month or so, he was living the life, there's no doubt."

Peterson, who was originally from New London, Wisconsin, worked in marketing and public relations but was in between jobs this month.

Leake, a 28-year-old business analyst who spent all of Sunday at the hospital with Peterson, says he was touched to hear that cyclists had put up this ghost bike memorial in his honor.

"That's great. That's unbelievable. It just shows you what kind of people are in Colorado," he says. "There's not just...hit-and-run type people. There's really down-to-earth, good people who put up bike memorials.... To have people do that who don't even know him, it's just amazing. Those are the type of people who are in Colorado and that's the type of person Dan is."

The ghost bike should be a reminder to the suspect who killed Peterson and fled the scene, Leake believes. "I hope they see that memorial and I hope something can come up inside them and [they] turn themselves in. I hope they realize that this person that [they]...hit might have died, but he's definitely not forgotten."

The day after the accident, between thirty and fifty of Peterson's friends got together with his family for an impromptu memorial in Cheeseman Park. And there has since been a service in Wisconsin for Peterson, which Leake attended.

"It's really tough for everybody. He was a very healthy, outgoing, energetic guy. The connection that we all realized this past week is that, out of a lot of the different friends we had, Dan was definitely the spoke of the wheel," Leake says. "Dan connected a lot of groups together.... Dan touched a lot of people.... He had one of those infectious smiles. He was one of those people that could bring anybody together like it was nothing."

Page down to see more photos from the memorial and of the ghost bike. Page down to see more photos. Page down to see more photos. More from our News archive: "Wayne Lufkin, missing Springs man and attempted murderer, busted in Denver"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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