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UMD mourns staff member killed while bicycling in Hermantown

Richard Brill

News that one of its own died Sunday stunned the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, where Richard Brill was regarded as a technical expert who also excelled with his people skills.

Brill, 44, of Superior, was killed after he was struck by a vehicle while riding a bike near the intersection of Lavaque and Morris Thomas roads in Hermantown, authorities reported Monday.

Called a “valued and respected member of our campus community,” by UMD officials, Brill — “Rick” to colleagues — was described as something other than a stereotypical “IT guy.”

As director of technology for UMD’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics, Brill made a point of getting to know colleagues in the hallways so that he would have a better idea of who they were when their computer and technical issues arose.

“One thing that stood out about Rick was he always said this: ‘Behind every technical issue, technical request and technical problem, there’s always an individual,’ ” said Praveen Aggarwal, associate dean of the Labovitz School. “That’s where he really excelled. He understood the people side very well.”

The Hermantown Police Department reported in a news release that Brill was traveling on the shoulder of Lavaque Road at 2:58 p.m., when according to a witness in the area he was hit by a sport utility vehicle driven by a 71-year-old Proctor man. The name of the driver was not released by Hermantown police.

According to the news release, the 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe was southbound on Lavaque Road, crossed over the centerline into the northbound lane and struck Brill.

Brill was pronounced dead at the scene, despite immediate life-saving measures by first responders, Hermantown police reported.

The driver of the Tahoe was not taken into custody, according to the news release.

In an interview with the News Tribune, Deputy Chief Shawn Padden of the Hermantown Police Department described a confounding crash scene.

“I don’t know what to charge this guy with — if anything,” Padden said. “It sucks. It’s a tragic incident. We’re going to look at it. To have somebody lose their life and not have anybody held responsible … we’re looking at all angles to see what we can come up with.”

A voluntary blood draw was collected from the driver and will be sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis, police said.

“There was really no indication of impairment,” Padden said. “We ran him through field sobriety and he passed everything.”

Meanwhile, as news of Brill’s death spread, a campus grieved.

“This was very difficult news for us to hear today,” said Lynne Williams, director of university marketing and public relations for UMD.

Aggarwal said he met with Brill weekly. They’d been working on some major projects together, including a website scheduled for launch in October.

“He said the new school website was really making good progress,” Aggarwal said. “We sure will miss him. Everybody so appreciated his personal side. He always had a smile on his face. No matter how challenging the situation, he would come up with a solution. It’s tragic for UMD — tragic for us.”

A biography on the UMD website described Brill as an “avid outdoorsman,” particularly in archery and wildlife photography. He was married and had one daughter.

Hermantown police are being assisted with the reconstruction and investigation of the crash by the Minnesota State Patrol.