Cyclist, 20, killed in Towson hit-and-run crash wanted to 'make the world a better place'

A 20-year-old Baltimore bicyclist who a friend said wanted to "make the world a better place" was killed after being struck by two cars Monday night in Towson.

Aaron Michael Laciny was hit by two vehicles just after 10:30 p.m. near the intersection of Charles Street and Charlesbrooke Avenue, Baltimore County Police said.

Police said Laciny was riding south on Charles Street when he was struck by a car that drove away from the scene. Police said he was then struck by a second vehicle — the driver of which remained at the scene and called police.

Laciny was taken to nearby Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where he died, police said.

Police said Laciny was wearing a helmet, but his bicycle did not have reflectors or lights. Police are seeking the vehicle that first struck Laciny and said it "may have front-end damage to its bumper."

Police have obtained surveillance video from private security cameras near the area, and are reviewing the footage. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 410-307-2020.

Laciny recently graduated from Baltimore City Community College, and was interning in the Johns Hopkins University NanoEnergy Laboratory this summer, said his brother, Joe Laciny.

Laciny was working to design and build new materials for inexpensive solar cells, said Hopkins professor Susanna Thon. In his three weeks at the lab, Thon said, Laciny quickly became one of the best students she's ever mentored.

Laciny was self-motivated, inquisitive and had a "real promising research career ahead of him," Thon said. He was also outgoing and loved the outdoors, and was planning a hiking trip for the 10-person lab, she said.

Questdrion Threat, who attended BCCC with Laciny, said friends jokingly called him "Bill Nye" — a reference to the television science personality — because he was so smart.

"He taught himself differential equations," said Threat, 23. "It looked like gibberish to me, but he was very smart."

Threat recalled a school trip to Washington where the two roomed together. When they got to the hotel, Laciny pulled out dry erase markers and started doing math equations on the glass windows.

"He had a beautiful mind," Threat said. "He wanted to do research that would make the world a better place."

At BCCC, Laciny worked with biology professor Malathi Radhakrishnan to research the medicinal properties of henna, according to a news release. He won the Associate Dean's Award for Best Mentored Project in 2015.

He also worked on a statistical analysis of lead levels in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., finding that about 60 percent of city residents had toxic levels in their water, according to the school. He did research on cancer treatment as well, before graduating with a 4.0 GPA, according to BCCC.

Laciny was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for two-year college students and the 2017 PTK All-Maryland Academic Team, according to BCCC. He hoped to study mathematics or a related field at Hopkins.

Laciny planned to bike to Maine and back in the fall, said his 22-year-old brother. He lived in Federal Hill with his mother, five siblings and a foster child.

Penny Troutner, the owner of Light Street Cycles, remembers Laciny coming into her shop with his family a few years ago. 

"He was really sweet and gung-ho about getting out on a bike," Troutner said. "He had his whole life ahead of him."

Troutner called the incident devastating and unnecessary. 

"It is so violent and cowardly to leave the scene and not stop to render aid," she said. "It reminds us what we already know — that cyclists are the most vulnerable travelers on the road."

Among the biking community, the crash has caused a "swell of outrage," said Joe Traill, owner of Joe's Bike Shop, where Joe Laciny works.

"Repeatedly, we see motorists hitting cyclists and simply driving off. It's morally depraved," Traill said. "In this case, there's a chance Aaron might still be alive if the first car had stopped and the second car hadn't hit him again."

Less than a mile from Monday night's accident, cyclist Thomas Palermo was killed in 2014 by a drunk and texting driver while riding in a non-protected bike lane on Roland Avenue in North Roland Park.

Baltimore has spent millions of dollars to make the city more bicycle friendly, but recently, biking advocates say they are worried progress will be rolled back.

Earlier this month, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered a citywide review of bike lanes and parking spaces after Canton residents complained a bike lane there made the road too narrow for fire equipment. The city decided to demolish the protected bike lane, prompting a lawsuit aimed at saving it.

This latest hit-and-run emphasizes the need for high-quality, protected bicycle lanes and compassion for bicyclists on the streets, said Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, a Baltimore bicycling advocacy group.

"What this tragedy provides is an opportunity for us to have a serious conversation about the region's commitment to safety of people riding bikes," she said. "It just speaks to how as a region, a county, a city, we have to get better about caring about people who ride bikes on the street."

A YouCaring page set up to help Laciny's family with funeral expenses has raised nearly $8,000 as of Tuesday evening.

"People don't plan to have to do a funeral for a 20-year-old," said family friend Stephanie Groh Doersam, who set up the page. "The support has been tremendous."

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

trichman@baltsun.com

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