By David L’Heureux
Bobby was a cyclist and a friend, although I hadn’t turned a pedal stroke with him since we were kids. He turned his last on Thursday, August 26, in Queens. A flatbed truck hit him at approximately 11 p.m. as he rode to a friend’s house. His pelvis was crushed so badly that the doctors couldn’t even do surgery. He fought through the weekend—he was a fighter—but succumbed to his injuries on Monday. The truck driver never stopped.
Bobby, 45, was born Robert Emmett Bowen III. He was the father of Robert Emmett Bowen IV and Stella, and the oldest of six siblings. He was a son to Rita Vasquez and Robert Emmett Bowen, Jr. Bobby was a prominent and accomplished jazz musician, performer and jazz combo teacher at Hofstra University. He played the stand-up, double bass in concerts, performances, gigs and jam sessions all over the world and taught hundreds of students who hoped to one day do the same.
Now, as his mother put it in an emotionally charged but matter-of-fact way at his memorial, Bobby is gone. I remember when he and I first talked about getting back into riding bikes several years ago. He’d had a rough patch with his personal life and needed an outlet. Riding his bike everywhere he went in the city made him happy, and helped him stay fit and feel alive. I knew that Bobby loved to ride from our childhood, and it came as no surprise that he loved it just as much as an adult. When we were young, we explored his family’s basement: There was an entire room filled with old frames, tires, cranksets and handlebars that the kids would tear down, part out and rebuild into custom bikes they could ride on neighborhood expeditions. Bobby was usually the leader. That was his role in the family, among many others. He was also the arbiter of disputes, voice of reason, king of cool, and one of the most compassionate and genuinely sincere people I’ve ever met.
In recent years, he remained at the center of his family’s lives in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. His mom said he was as happy as he’d been in years and biking was still a big part of that. Of all the lessons Bobby taught me over the years, his last—that every time you ride in traffic, your life is on the line—came at too high a price. Bobby probably accepted this reality, but he kept riding. What he’d never accept was that the person driving the truck that ended his life didn’t have the decency, respect for life or courage to stop and see if he was okay. Bobby is gone. But his spirit will live forever in the music he made and the thoughts, memories, hopes and dreams of his family and friends.
The New York City Police Department is actively investigating Bowen’s death as a hit-and-run homicide. There were cameras at the scene, but the footage is inconclusive and did not allow police to identify the truck in question. Authorities and the Bowen family are asking anyone with information regarding the ongoing investigation to contact the NYPD tips line at 1-800-577-TIPS. Click here for information about submitting a tip via text or the Internet.