Justyna Palka was always the big sister when she traveled from Germany to visit friends in Chicago.
She was the one who helped the other girls ride bicycles without training wheels. She brushed their hair before school, and taught them about make-up and doing their nails.
"She would play with us. We grew up together" said Monika Moskal, 19, a family friend. "We considered each other as family."
Moskal was still trying to cope with the news that Palka was struck and killed by a tour bus Tuesday night as she crossed a busy road near her home in the Streeterville neighborhood.
"It's a tragedy for the whole family because the only daughter is gone," Moskal said.
Palka, 26, of the 400 block of North McClurg Court, was in a crosswalk on Columbus Drive at Illinois Street when the bus turned into the intersection and hit her at about 6:50 p.m., police said.
Witnesses said the traffic lights on Illinois were green and that pedestrians had the right-of-way to cross Columbus. It did not appear the bus was carrying passengers, they said.
Zachary Pernikliyski was walking to work at a nearby hotel when he saw the bus making a right turn. Pernikliyski saw the bus "bump," then saw a dark shape in front of the rear wheels, just before the tires went over. He thought it might have been a bag or a piece of luggage.
"Oh my God," he recalls thinking after the bus passed. "That's a person."
He and other people ran to the woman, who was unconscious. Pernikliyski remembers frantically trying to unlock his mobile phone to call 911. He and other pedestrians tried to stop traffic while a person in hospital scrubs tried to resuscitate Palka.
Meanwhile, the driver got out of the bus. "He was shaken up," Pernikliyski said. "He must not have seen her."
"I wish I could have done something for her," Pernikliyski said. "It's an awful thing."
Palka was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition, said Chief Joe Roccasalva, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman. She was pronounced dead at 7:04 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
The driver remained in custody this afternoon but no charges have been announced.
According to Palka's personal Web site, she was born in Krakow, Poland and grew up in Dortmund, Germany before moving to the United States in 2005. She graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and concentration in visual communication.
Palka worked as an art director and graphic designer at the communications firm of Ogilvy & Mather, said Jack Rooney, the president of the company's Chicago office. He said he was told of the accident this morning and the company is in contact with Palka's family.
Palka “was wonderfully talented,” said Kristopher Choma, who worked with her at Ogilvy & Mather, sitting just a few feet from her cubicle. “She was a kind and sweet and generous person. Everybody that knew her liked her, and everybody who knew her is devastated today.”
Co-workers left two white roses and a yellow daisy on Palka’s desk today, Choma said.
“I wish that in words I could do justice to the kind of person that she was,” he said. “More than anything, I wish she was still sitting there across from me.”
Palka also worked for Chicago Magazine, a Tribune Co. holding. Art Director Jennifer Moore said she was an intern for the publication in early 2010 before moving to Ogilvy.
"I'm completely shocked," Moore said. "She was a great worker and she showed a lot of promise."
Moskal said that Palka had learned to love Chicago from her visits and decided to stay and work in Chicago after studying at the School of the Art Institute. She lived with her mother in Streeterville.
"She was a really smart girl, a really creative girl," Moskal said. "She was a very determined person, very creative."
Palka was the only daughter in the family and had two brothers who babied her, Moskal said. She had just gone back to Germany over Christmas to visit her family after her brother recently had a email@example.com