Ghost bike memorial installed in SLO to honor slain cyclist: ‘Life is very fragile’

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Feb. 16—Andreas Kooi had a knack for making people feel comfortable in their own skin.

“He was always a big goofball,” Kooi’s friend Jacob Montag said. “He just carried a big heart with him, and a big love for creativity, expression, and just showing kindness to other people.”

Kooi, an incoming Cal Poly graduate student, was fatally injured on Aug. 6, 2021, when a 17-year-old driver crashed into his bike near the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Broad Street in San Luis Obispo.

On Feb. 4, Kooi’s family and friends remembered his kindness, intelligence and authenticity as they installed a ghost bike memorial near the scene of the crash on Foothill Boulevard to honor the 24-year-old.

Kooi’s father, Jacob Kooi, thanked the group for their “enormous energy and love and community support.”

Friends, family install ghost bike memorial

About 40 people gathered at the ghost bike memorial site on Foothill Boulevard on Feb. 4, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, San Luis Obispo Police Department officers and members of Bike SLO County. The emergency room nurse who received Kooi at the hospital on the night of the crash was also in the crowd.

Kooi’s friend Liam Somers and his brother, David Kooi, attached the ghost bike to a road sign near the scene of the crash. Friends and family left bouquets of orange, purple and white flowers on the bike, which was painted white.

“Damn, that’s beautiful,” Somers said during the installation.

The front wheel of the bike is decorated with spoons bent into music notes to show Kooi’s love for music, along with a cut-out of a video camera to show his passion for filmmaking.

The side of the bike facing the street features a plaque that says “SLO Down” to remind motorists to be careful around cyclists, Kooi’s brother David said.

The side of the bike facing the sidewalk features a plaque with Kooi’s photo and a QR code to his memorial website.

The plaque also displays the music symbol of a fermata over a long rest played at triple forte, which directs the musician to allow a silence that lasts as long as the conductor decides.

“That’s pretty symbolic of the hope that we have in seeing Andreas again,” Kooi’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kooi, said. “It’s kind of up to God.”

The family also added a sticker to the bike from the Organ Donor Association. Kooi’s organs were donated to at least eight people, according to his father, Jacob Kooi.

“It’s comforting, in a way, and also encouraging that life is very fragile,” Jacob Kooi said, drawing parallels between Jesus Christ’s transition to spiritual life and his son’s. “I’d like to encourage everybody to sign up to be an organ donor.”

Kooi’s mother, Helen, shared a Bible verse, Philippians 1:21. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” she quoted.

The back wheel of the bike is adorned with stars, representative of Andreas Kooi’s love for astrophotography and stargazing trips with his friends. They also symbolize how Kooi was “a rising star,” his father said.

A Christian cross is placed above the back wheel, pointing toward the sky.

Traditionally, ghost bikes don’t include personalized decorations, “but we wanted to give it some more jazz,” David Kooi said.

The city approved the design and the placement of the bike, and issued a permit for the memorial that lasts until 2044, according to David Kooi.

Who was SLO student fatally injured in crash?

Andreas Kooi was born in Pasadena and attended middle and high school in San Marino.

He went to Cuesta College from 2016 to 2018, studying a variety of topics, from computer science to civil engineering.

In 2018, Kooi transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he studied applied physics and statistics. He interned in a graduate lab, which is rare for an undergraduate student, his brother said. His senior year, he wrote his bachelor’s thesis on quantum computation.

“He was really smart,” David Kooi said of his brother. “On the other hand, he was really sensitive.”

When Andreas Kooi told his brother about his physics class, he shared that he “wanted to know and understand, but not at the cost of losing his embodied self,” David Kooi said.

“He told me, ‘David, these people feel like heads on a stick. I don’t want to be a head on a stick — all head and no heart,’ ” David Kooi said.

Kooi’s authenticity encouraged his friends to be themselves, they told The Tribune.

Dio Wilde remembers stargazing with Kooi at Perfumo Canyon. Someone had brought a strobe light, and Kooi leapt to his feet to dance with his friends, Wilde said.

“He didn’t worry about trying to look cool or hit the rhythm,” Wilde said. “He was just there to have a good time and to give everyone permission to feel like they’re having a good time.”

Wilde remembers coming home to find Kooi dressed as a devil in “tight leather leggings” and standing in front of a green screen. Kooi explained that he was making a video, and invited Wilde to play the devil’s bartender.

“He had a party side but he also could be very shy and soft spoken,” Wilde said. “I just feel like he wanted to feel the full spectrum of human emotions.”

Kooi often connected with others through music.

Friend Jacob Montag remembered how Kooi jerryrigged a bass tube, normally used to blast music from a car, to play on a speaker in Kooi’s room when the two were in high school.

They listened to Rage Against the Machine, “almost creating like an earthquake type effect,” Montag said. “He loved individual expression while embracing collective love for all people.”

In high school, Dennis Lin listened to screamo music, an aggressive subgenre of emo, Lin said, but he kept it a secret.

Then Kooi encouraged him to enjoy the music, and they drove around blasting it from his car.

“It was cathartic, and also helped me realize that I don’t have to strain my tastes or my personality to fit different molds,” Lin said. “Andreas is just always genuine, and made sure that other people felt comfortable being genuine.”

“With Andreas, you didn’t have to worry about being judged,” Lin said.

The day before the fatal Foothill Boulevard collision, Kooi released a music album titled “Feeling Emotion.”

“It’s about dealing with trauma, it’s about letting go. It’s about awareness and becoming aware of every emotion,” Kooi said in a YouTube video. “I want to live in a world where people are more themselves and more in touch with God, and more in touch with the Earth and each other.”

In the release statement for the album, Kooi wrote, “I want to see a world where we all seek to give instead of consume things in order to cover the universal pains we feel. Death is a black canopy, but everyone’s light can be lit by our Creator.”

Kooi and friends embarked on ‘misadventures’

Evan Duncan was eating breakfast outside of Stenner Glen Apartments in San Luis Obispo one morning when Kooi and Somers joined him on his bench.

“They excitedly slid in beside me on both sides. I felt ambushed,” Duncan recalled with a smile. “They were looking for somebody to go river rafting with. It was right after a huge downpour of rain, and the river (had) overflowed.”

Duncan talked Kooi and Somers out of rafting on the San Luis Obispo Creek, but the trio soon moved in together.

“Andreas was extremely studious, quiet and mischievous,” Duncan said. “Liam, on the other hand, kind of counterbalanced him because he was kind of aloof, a space cadet. … It was a great dynamic.”

Every year, Kooi and his friends would pile into Somers’ car and embark on adventures. They hiked in the Sierra Nevada mountains, climbed the tallest sand dune in California at Death Valley and crossed the salt flats in Soda Lake wearing homemade cardboard shoes.

They called their trips “misadventures” because something always went wrong.

At Laurel Lake, the group gathered around the bonfire under the stars while Kooi jammed on his bongos. They threw rocks and bottles on the frozen lake.

“The whole surface vibrates when you throw something hard on it,” Duncan said. “You just hear the echo whistling.”

Michael Silva remembered planning photos of the night sky with Kooi on their trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

“He one-upped me,” Silva said with a laugh. “He got special lenses and certain cameras. I never got that far. … He (was) literally an astronomer.”

The adventure in the Sierras involved “illegally crossing boundary lines to camp, almost freezing to death and maggot-infested waters,” Silva said.

Kooi filmed the trips and made them into videos that the group called Dre-dits in honor of Andreas’ nickname, Dre.

“He was a true pioneer,” Silva said. “He would just trek into whatever interesting thing that he came upon. Anything involving art or science, he just dove into it. He’s a mastermind.”

In 2021, Kooi’s friends hosted a bonfire at the beach to celebrate his memory, according to his friend Logan Hull.

As the sun sank into the ocean, the waves glowed with dinoflagellates — a type of algae that produces light.

“The entire ocean, the waves were crashing neon green,” Hull said. “We all ran out there and jumped in the ocean. It was like he was communicating with us.”

This story was originally published February 16, 2023, 2:22 PM.

(c)2023 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.