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'Something we'll never heal from': Magnus White's parents on grief, their son's memory after driver arrested

Magnus White, 17, was killed by a driver on July 29 as he was riding his bike in Boulder in preparation for the Junior Mountain Bike World Championships.
magnus white and parents graphic.jpg
Posted at 5:17 PM, Dec 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-15 15:45:19-05

BOULDER, Colo. — The arrest of the driver accused of killing Boulder bicyclist Magnus White was much-anticipated, but Wednesday's announcement was far from a celebration for the teen's family.

"Yesterday, when the news came out, it brought us back to July 29 — the day that he was killed," said Michael White, Magnus' father. "Yesterday brought us back to day one."

"We're talking about, and thinking about, his death and circumstances of his death, and not his life," his wife and Magnus' mother Jill White added.

Magnus White’s parents on grief, their son’s memory after driver arrested

In life, Christmas was the teen's favorite holiday. In the wake of his death, his family couldn't bear to put a tree up in the house.

"I put a solar-powered Christmas tree by his ghost bike on the side of the road to remind people that there's a child missing Christmas this year," Michael said.

Magnus White ghost bike

Magnus, 17, was an accomplished young cyclist. He began cycling through Boulder Junior Cycling and quickly rose in the ranks of off-road cycling competitions, according to USA Cycling. He won the 2021 Junior 17-18 Cyclocross National Championships and competed with the USA Cycling National Team for a season of European Cyclocross racing. He ended the year at the 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championship in Arkansas, the organization said. He represented his community and country at another Cyclocross World Championships in January 2023.

“As parents we were like, 'Wow, he's got some talent. He could potentially be in the Olympics,'" Michael said. "It started in our head, but it was too far down the road for us to even really think about. You know, we let him drive his ambition. And if he wanted to do it, we would support him."

Magnus had carried a 4.2 GPA in school, his parents said. He would light up a room. He knew the rules of the road. He was sweet. Funny. Savvy. He used technology to build bike routes using other people's rides and data. His competitive nature came out in races, and it was easy to tell when it was "game on" because he would stick his tongue out.

Magnus White

At the time of the crash, Magnus was about to start his senior year in high school. He was training for the Junior Mountain Bike World Championships in Scotland and proudly wearing his Team USA jersey, the parents said.

Michael had been out on his own bicycle ride at the same time as Magnus on July 29 and while showering, he missed a call from Boulder Community Health. Thinking it was about a bill, he initially ignored it.

He remembered thinking that his son would wrap up his ride and walk in the door within a few minutes. But 20, then 40, minutes went by. Michael looked up Magnus' location from his phone, and saw the phone was at the hospital. The pieces started coming together. He listened to the voicemail. It said to call back right away.

Once he realized what had happened, Michael called Jill, who was in Wisconsin with their younger son. She was able to fly to Denver that day. While she rushed home, Michael sat in the hospital with Magnus.

With the teen's injuries, he almost didn't recognize his son.

“After seeing what I saw in the emergency room, I knew he wasn't going to survive," Michael said.

The circumstances around the crash were dramatic, the parents said. Jill wonders about the exact moment of collision — if Magnus knew what had happened. Or if he suffered.

The investigation started that day but for almost 20 weeks, the family had few answers to help mend their heartbreak.

“A lot of people were questioning, is there even going to be any charges filed, because it's taking so long," Michael said.

Magnus White

The driver, identified as 23-year-old Yeva Smilianska of Westminster, was arrested on Tuesday evening on a charge of vehicular homicide - reckless, which is a Class 4 felony. The judge set a personal recognizance bond at $100,000.

Smilianska is a refugee from Ukraine who fled to escape the war and has been living in Colorado since, her defense said. Investigators wrote in an affidavit that they believe she fell asleep at the wheel when she allegedly struck the young bicyclist as he was riding near Highway 119 and N. 63rd Street.

“It's one of the most popular cycling routes — that little section — to get back to Boulder" Michael said.

The parents said they are angry that the driver decided to get in the car while she was sleepy.

Charges filed against driver accused of killing Boulder bicyclist Magnus White

"So, if a driver falls asleep or texts or drives drunk, it compromises us. Me. And it's just scary," Jill said.

Today, Magnus lingers in every aspect of their lives.

"Not being able to see who the young man was going to become — it's something that we'll never heal from," Michael said. "He'll be with us the rest of our lives.”

After the crash, a GoFundMe fundraiser was created to support the White family. Funds from there helped start a nonprofit called The White Line.

"We knew we needed to do something. His light was too big. He was too big to not do anything, to have his story ended when he died," the parents said.

Magnus White

The White Line said it "champions the relentless spirit and love for life of Magnus White," adding that "while the world recognized him as a rising cycling talent, to us he remains the ever-smiling Magnus, who cherished family, friends, and fun above all." The nonprofit will advocate for safe roads — including putting rumble strips on that stretch of Highway 119 — help young cyclists compete around the world, and push to increase penalties for careless or reckless driving resulting in death.

The nonprofit will also release a series of films titled "Lives Worth Remembering" to highlight the lives of bicyclists killed on the roads, and their impact on the communities. A 10-minute trailer for the first film, which provides glimpses of Magnus' life as well as his family's grief, was released on Dec. 4. You can watch it here.

It's a step forward, but it's painful nevertheless.

“It's awful to start a nonprofit for your dead child," Michael said. "You're no longer the father of him. You're the father of your son's legacy."

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