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'My friend is gone' | Monday marks 1 year since I-74 pedestrian path crash left 2 dead

Brian Martinez says one of the two men killed, Ethan Gonzalez, 21, was his friend.

MOLINE, Ill. — Brian Martinez of Silvis stood silent and still on the Interstate 74 bike path for more than 30 minutes on Monday.

He was looking at dozens of photos of his late friend, Ethan Lee Gonzalez, 21, and former classmate, Anthony Castaneda, 18, who both died last year.

Credit: WQAD
Brian Martinez, 21, looking at a memorial for his dead friends on the I-74 Bridge bike path

"I met Ethan, from what I remember, back in high school," said Martinez. "I considered him my best friend."

Credit: WQAD
From left to right: Anthony Castaneda (18), Ethan Gonzalez (21), and Charles Bowen (22).

On May 22, 2022, Gonzalez, Castaneda and then 22-year-old Charles Bowen started walking across the I-74 bridge's bike path early that morning, but only Bowen is still alive today.

"When it happened, I didn't get to see it over the news," Martinez said. "My friend actually found out [that morning]. He texted me and he told me that he wanted to talk to me in person."

Chhabria Harris, a then 46-year-old woman from East Moline, allegedly struck all three men with her vehicle according to the Rock Island County States Attorney's Office, while intoxicated. Gonzalez was pronounced dead at the scene, the other two victims were taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Credit: WQAd
Photo of Ethan Gonzalez, 21 that hangs on a poster on the I-74 Bridge bike path.

"[My friend], he let me know that my friend, our friend, was gone," Martinez said.

The bike path officially opened just four days earlier on May 18, without protective barriers at either the Illinois or Iowa vehicle entrance ramps. After the incident, the Iowa Department of Transportation added barriers.

"At first I laughed a little because I thought it was a joke," Martinez said. "You know maybe it was just a bad-taste joke."

Then four days after he was struck, Castaneda died in his hospital bed on May 26.

Credit: WQAD
Photos of Anthony Castaneda, 18, hanging on the I-74 Bridge bike path.

"[My friend] kept going and the smile off my face just slowly like degraded and I was like this is real," Martinez said. "My friend is gone."

Harris was initially charged with 10 counts by the Rock Island County States Attorney in May of 2022 before being charged with four additional counts soon after. 

But in July of 2022, 7 of the 14 counts were dropped because of technicalities, something Rock Island County States Attorney Dora Villarreal says is common in legal proceedings.

But May 22, 2022 is a day that Martinez won't forget.

He said at first, he was filled with rage and disbelief and grief, all at the same time. Then his mind went numb.

"After a couple months, I lost any feeling towards the person that struck Ethan and the other two that were on here," Martinez recalled.

Credit: WQAD
Digital photo of Ethan Gonzalez, 21.

Martinez says he's forgiven the driver of the vehicle, who's been sitting in jail for more than a year.

But he hasn't forgotten what he would tell Gonzalez, if he could see him one last time.

"I would tell him I love you. I care for you and we should hang a little more often really. You're one of the closest friends I ever had."

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