Known panhandler killed in hit-and-run

October 17, 2009 9:23:41 PM PDT
Chicago police are looking for a vehicle that struck and killed a man on the West Side early Saturday.The accident happened at Roosevelt and Cicero. Investigators say the victim, identified as Larry Nelson, was a well known panhandler in the neighborhood.

"He'll always be in my heart," said John Fabian, who identified himself as the victim's roommate.

Nelson's life was claimed by a hit-and-run driver. Although not a relative, Fabian and several others are part of the street family mourning the sudden death of the well-known panhandler everyone called "Pops" or "Uncle Larry."

"Had a birthday last September, has no issues, always panhandles outside, never bothers nobody. So, he shouldn't have gotten hit like he did," Donald Williams said.

Witnesses say the accident happened just after 2 a.m. Saturday as the Cicero resident in his 60s worked his usual intersection of Roosevelt and Cicero.

Juliana Williams and a friend were stopped at the intersection.

"As we're looking at him, all of a sudden, we heard a big, intense "pow," and Larry was nowhere in sight," Juliana Williams said.

Surveillance video from a nearby gas station captured the impact.

Larry Nelson's friends say they warned him about working the corner late at night because he'd already been struck by a vehicle once before.

"He was in the hospital for two months. The car hit him. He had brain surgery, and he got it in the back," said friend Wilma Berns.

Once a union electrician and plumber, Larry Nelson became a popular fixture in his community despite his drug addiction, and he was even featured in The Brickyard - Home of All the Junkies, a documentary film about homelessness and those battling substance abuse.

The film's maker, DePaul University sociology professor Greg Scott, says he hopes Larry's non-traditional lifestyle won't get in the way of justice.

"His job, as he often told me, was to make people feel better about themselves," Scott said.

A community alert has been issued for the hit-and-run accident that claimed Larry Nelson's life. Police are looking for a red vehicle with extensive front end damage and possible windshield damage.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to call police.


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