Friends say Vijay Mohan was always the first person to crack a joke, but he wasn’t only about quips. A great lover of film, he was often juggling multiple projects at once and continually had his sights set on the next one.
On Monday, friends mourned the death of the 26-year-old, who was killed late Saturday night after he was struck by a Buick Roadmaster on Girard Avenue. It’s no surprise that he was pedaling his way home after seeing a film at the Ritz Five in Society Hill.
“He was very intellectually curious, and really serious about social justice,” said his girlfriend, Maori Karmael Holmes. “He was really interested in comedy and music and film. He was involving himself in all of those things in different ways. He had a lot of people who loved him because he was so gracious and giving to them”
Mohan worked at PhillyCAM, the city’s public-access channel, though his passions weren’t beholden to his 9-to-5 schedule.
He was a musician, screenwriter, activist and youth advocate. He volunteered at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival and the BlackStar Film Festival, founded by Holmes.
And he zigzagged between it all by way of bicycle, braving two-wheel excursions in all seasons.
“All his friends rode bikes. It was a big part of his culture,” Holmes said.
Mohan was the son of immigrants and spent the first 10 years of his life in Chicago. His family moved to Kentucky and Florida for short stints before moving to India when his father became ill. He completed one year of college there prior to attending Temple, where he earned a degree in film and media arts.
“He was one of the most culturally literate students I’ve ever had,” said Temple assistant professor Rea Tajiri. “Very earnest, very warm and he had the ability to make people feel really comfortable, and then he could ask the really tough questions.”
Tajiri said Mohan got over adversity at many life stages, yet he didn’t wear it self-righteously.
“The years he was in the U.S. were rough. He grew up in some very rough neighborhoods,” said Tajiri, who became a friend and mentor after Mohan graduated. “For 26 years, he lived the life of someone who was 45. But he overcame it.”
Gretjen Clausing, executive director at PhillyCAM, said Mohan’s absence is going to sting. He had an unmistakable presence, she said.
“Providing technical advice, be a shoulder to cry on, helping people log-on to a computer in the computer lab. Be a stand-in for a production,” Clausing said. “He made everyone feel very welcome.”
On Saturday, when Mohan and Holmes walked out of the Ritz following a screening of “While We’re Young,” a comedy about generational divides between big-city creative types, a debate ensued. Holmes is older than Mohan and the two had vastly different takes on the film, Holmes remembers.
Not unusual for Holmes, who relished a good debate.
“The last thing he said to me was, ‘See you tomorrow,’ and it was a little strange,” Holmes said.
The route he took on his way back to his Brewerytown apartment was one he had biked countless times before.
Girard, where he was struck, is a notoriously unfriendly corridor for cyclists, once dubbed “a biking nightmare.” Its trolley tracks, parking on both sides and inconsistent shoulder room spell dangerous encounters for many cyclists.
“You have trolley tracks, which keep you very close to parked cars. And then you’re in the door-zone if you’re on the other side of the trolley tracks,” said Randy Lobasso with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Mohan was not wearing a helmet at the time of the collision, according to police. He died hours after of multiple fractures and head trauma.
Few details are known at this time about the collision. The driver of the Buick was a 23-year-old male, though his identity has not been disclosed. No charges have been filed, but the case is still under investigation.
“There were a number of people who contacted me who said they saw the accident, and it just really was an accident. Nobody was wrong,” Holmes said. “It didn’t seem like Vijay or the driver were at fault. It was really just a freak accident.”
He was the second cyclist to die on the streets of Philadelphia in 2015. Every year, about 700 cyclists are involved in accidents with motorists, though all but a few result in minor injuries.
Friends have setup an online fundraiser to allow his remains to be sent to his mother in India. So far, supporters have committed more than $14,000.
BIKE ACCIDENTS FATAL ACCIDENTS
2012: 727 5
2013: 728 2
2014: 696 3
2015: 125 2
(Source: Philadelphia Police Department)