On the corner of 28th Street and Drake Avenue in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, the family of Telesfora Escamilla created a shrine for their mother, decorating a tree with silk flowers, ribbons and Our Lady of Guadalupe candles.
Escamilla was in a crosswalk at that intersection three days before Christmas in 2016 when a driver delivering Amazon packages in a cargo van turned left and hit her. She died that day, two weeks shy of her 85th birthday.
The delivery driver, who was working for an Amazon contractor at the height of the holiday rush, was indicted on a felony charge of reckless homicide but was acquitted in a bench trial this summer. Escamilla’s children are suing Amazon, the contractor and the driver. The driver declined to comment; the contractor did not return calls seeking comment; and Amazon declined to comment.
A proud member of the steelworkers union, Escamilla spent three decades as a machine operator at Crown, Cork & Seal. She and her husband raised their six children in the neighborhood.
Escamilla never drove. She walked everywhere — to feed the birds, to the grocery store, to daily Mass. She had her own pew at St. Agnes of Bohemia Catholic Church.
“She was the neighborhood’s mother,” Joann Escamilla, her daughter-in-law, said. “She even talked to the gangbangers, saying, ‘This is not the life for you.’”
At 84, Escamilla still raked leaves and shoveled snow. And she loved to dance.
“She put the records on all the time, the Spanish records, and whoever’s there, she would dance with that person,” her daughter Irma said. “Whoever’s in the area, she’ll grab them and dance with them.”
When Escamilla’s husband of 57 years died in 2010, her son Bernard said he asked his mother to move in with his family.
The answer was “no,” Bernard Escamilla said. “She wanted to stay there.”
His sister Eleanore chimed in. “We both asked her. No, she was comfortable with the neighborhood … There was not one person she didn’t know in that area.”
Even a witness to the crash cried on the stand as he testified at the delivery driver’s criminal trial. When he was younger, the witness recalled how Escamilla would tell him to go inside and stay out of trouble.
The day of the crash, Escamilla’s daughter Gloria, who lives in Houston, spoke to her on the phone at 7 a.m., as she always did. Her mother was excited about Christmas, talking about serving Chickies’ Italian beef and her favorite tamales.
Escamilla held together four generations of her family. Without her, they feel adrift. Christmas isn’t a festive occasion any more, her children said.
“Now it’s not a holiday,” Gloria Escamilla said. “It will never be the same.”