Hamilton Road hit-and-run victim ‘a friendly soul’ who always put smiles on faces, boss says

29-year-old Jibin Benoy, who was fatally struck in the September hit-and-run. Jibin Benoy via Instagram

UPDATE: Sept. 20, 2022: A day after this article’s publication, London police issued an updated description for the suspect vehicle. Investigators say they are searching for a blue sedan, possibly a four-door, with a loud muffler and significant damage to the front end, hood, and windshield.

Jibin Benoy had just finished a late night shift at a downtown fried chicken restaurant when he and a co-worker began biking home early Sunday morning.

Benoy had worked at the restaurant, Kluck It, for roughly 10 months, handling the 9 p.m.-to-close shift as it didn’t conflict with his schedule at Fanshawe College where he studied operations management, his boss says.

Originally from Kerala, India, the 29-year-old budding engineer had relocated to the Forest City to study at the college, and had plans of making a life in Canada with his wife who was still back home.

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Upon arriving at his co-worker Syed’s house, Benoy said goodbye and departed to bike the rest of the way by himself. It was well past 4 a.m., and Benoy still had a distance to travel before arriving at his home on Highbury Avenue.

A short time later, as he was making his way down Hamilton Road just east of Adelaide Street, Benoy was struck and fatally injured by a vehicle near Little Grey Street.

The vehicle, possibly a dark-coloured sedan with significant front end, hood, and windshield damage, police said, fled the scene and has yet to be located.

First responders at the scene rushed Benoy to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Arriving at work on Sunday, Benoy’s colleagues were confronted with the horrific news.

“Everyone is kind of in shock,” Ibraheem Halbouni, Kluck It’s owner, said in an interview on Monday.

“We run the restaurant like a family, we don’t distance ourselves from anybody. Everyone is on a first name basis. Everyone chills with each other, everyone’s friends with each other. It’s more we lost a friend and a brother than we did a co-worker.”

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Benoy loved living in London and loved working with his colleagues at the restaurant where he was a well-liked presence, Halbouni said

“Always a friendly soul. Putting a smile on everybody’s face. Joking with us. Like, he was always happy and always patient.”

Halbouni says Benoy biked everywhere, including to and from work and to Fanshawe’s campus. His last words to his co-workers: “drive home safe,” he said.

A GoFundMe, launched by Halbouni to raise funds for Benoy’s family, had raised more than $14,000 as of Monday afternoon, a tally that continued to grow.

In addition to the campaign, Halbouni says he plans to launch a new sandwich at the restaurant in Benoy’s name, the Jibin Waffle Sandwich.

“For every sandwich sold, we’re giving a dollar, and for every meal sold, we’re giving $2 to a fund that will get people home that are in the same situation,” he said.

“So people that work night shifts and there’s no public transportation, or if they don’t have a car or access to a car, we’ll pay for an Uber ride home.”

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A separate fundraising campaign, launched by the London Ontario Malayalee Association, had raised nearly $10,000 as of publication.

The collision highlights the ongoing need for improved cycling infrastructure in the city that’s designed for all ages and abilities, local advocates say.

“We prioritize, you know, traffic flow above all else,” said Andrew Hunniford, general manager of the London Bicycle Cafe, said. “These aren’t accidents. These are the results of that prioritization.

“Hamilton Road is a really good example of that prioritization: the needs of people living further away in a car community being prioritized over economically-disadvantaged residents living closer to the core.”

The stretch of Hamilton where Sunday’s collision occurred is one of the busiest roadways in the downtown area, seeing roughly 20,500 to 22,000 vehicles daily between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to city figures from 2019.

Hamilton has no bike lanes between Horton Street and Highbury Avenue.

Click to play video: 'Police investigate hit-and-runs involving multiple victims in Toronto'
Police investigate hit-and-runs involving multiple victims in Toronto

“People need to cycle on Hamilton Road, as evidenced by them taking these risks, despite the fact that how dangerous it is. People are aware of that, but they don’t have a lot of choice,” Hunniford says.

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“They’re just kind of confronted by this prioritization of traffic flow right in front of them. It’s dangerous to cross. It’s dangerous to walk along. It’s impossible to cycle on.”

Halbouni says he would also like to see more done about cycling safety, including bike lanes, and hopes Benoy’s death “brings enough awareness to the right people.”

“Along the roads that are, like, tight. I know the older roads, infrastructure for cyclists, it’s not the greatest, especially where you have students as well,” he said.

“If their only means of transportation is biking, at least along those areas there should be, where they’re highly dense with students, bike lanes, at least, or late buses.”

The city says it has roughly 350 km of cycling paths, bike lanes and cycle tracks throughout the city. Advocates, however, note that the city’s active transportation network can be spotty, forcing bicyclists to, at times, ride in traffic or on sidewalks.

City officials say the municipality has several cycling-related projects in the works to improve the network, including extending protected bike lanes along Colborne Street and Queens Avenue, and constructing bike lanes along Brydges, Saskatoon, and Wavell streets as well as a cycle track on Bradley Avenue.

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“We have lots of projects in various stages, some in active design stage — Central Avenue is another one in active design, an east/west corridor through the downtown,” said Daniel Hall, the city’s manager of active transportation.

Active transportation infrastructure is also a main principle of the Masonville Secondary Plan, which proposes enhanced cycle routes along Fanshawe Park Road, North Centre Road and Richmond Street.

“There is (also) the policy stuff. We’ve done a lot around lowering speed limits city-wide in the 40- kilometre area speed limit programme. There is intersection safety improvements, so things like red light cameras,” he said.

The city, he adds, is also experimenting with leading bike intervals at intersections, which give cyclists a head start over traffic. One for pedestrians was installed earlier this year at Dundas and Wellington.

None of the cycling improvements in the works, however, include the stretch of Hamilton Road where Benoy was struck.

“I don’t believe that Hamilton Road is currently in our Cycling Master Plan as a cycling corridor,” Hall said.

The city is in the midst of drafting a long-term Mobility Master Plan, which will replace the existing Transportation and Cycling master plans and outline the city’s priorities for the next 10 to 25 years.

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Hall notes that improvements have been made to Egerton Street, which runs north and south through the area, as well as on the nearby Thames Valley Parkway, which runs roughly parallel to Hamilton.

“It’s certainly something that will be reviewed again as part of the Mobility Master Plan, just where the correct routes, or where the needs (are), in the cycling network, so that could be part of that discussion too.”

In January, city council voted to submit seven active transportation projects for federal and provincial funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP).

The submitted projects total $40 million, eating up the last of the money provisioned to the city through the ICIP’s public transit stream. The city will pony up $11 million for the projects, which includes $14 million in new on-road cycling infrastructure.

The city has to complete the projects by October of 2027. A report going before a city committee this week notes that the municipality is still waiting for funding approval.

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