Word spread quickly Friday, Jan. 29, in a highly active Facebook group populated with West Duluthians: A bicyclist had been hit by a car at Grand Avenue and 43rd Avenue West.
A member reported: It didn’t look good.
Once the victim was identified, which happened quickly because he was so well known, there was an outpouring within the group of "hug" and "cry" emojis and condolences and offers to send flowers, donate money and pray.
Kelli Latuska came on the scene that night after taking a right onto Grand Avenue from Denfeld Whole Foods Co-op.
“There were two cop cars stretched diagonally across the road, the accident scene,” said Latuska, who pulled into the nearby Kwik Trip for gas. The police officers were picking up belongings off the road and putting them in a centralized location. When Latuska went inside to pay, she heard that a bicyclist had been struck by a truck.
“That’s when I was, like, ‘Those are Darrell’s things, aren’t they?’” she said.
Darrell Sabrowski, 64, was a popular local homeless man known for his banter, the way he watched over the neighborhood and his antigovernmental takes on the world. He was a recognizable figure: a man in a winter coat cruising along on his bicycle, loaded with bags, up and down Grand Avenue, the parking lot of Super One and along the Munger Trail.
He was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and died Thursday evening, according to his family.
“He is just a staple of West Duluth,” Erica John, of the Irving Community Club, said.
Sabrowski then and now
Sabrowski and his six siblings grew up in West Duluth near the Lake Superior Zoo. He worked, at different times, for the city of Duluth, Knox Lumber Co. and Northland Gutter. He’s divorced and has two kids and seven grandchildren.
The death of his parents was a particular hardship for him, according to his family.
His mother, Marie Sabrowski, described in her obituary as a birdwatcher and angler, died in March 1997. His father, John Sabrowski Sr., an outdoorsman, died in November of the same year.
“He had a very hard time with the loss of his parents,” his sister, Theresa Beaulier, said. “It probably changed him forever.”
Sabrowski lived for a while in a house where he grew up. Then, in 2013, he became homeless. It seemed to suit him.
"He realized that he liked that," said his older brother, John Sabrowski.
Darrell Sabrowski was a nature lover who hunted and fished. Somewhere out there, probably near Waabizheshikana (formerly the Western Waterfront Trail), an area he frequented, he's got a canoe.
He had a sense of humor. He was well-read and smart. He collected information. He loved people and conversations.
“He was a caretaker,” Beaulier said. “A guardian angel over all of us.”
Sabrowski traveled heavy. He always kept his possessions with him, loaded in a strategically balanced way on his bicycle and topped with a blanket.
Beaulier said they recently weighed the baggage, which included a sleeping bag and tent.
“One hundred fifty-five pounds that he rode with every day,” she said. “When he left a place where he was staying, he never knew if he would be back.”
Sabrowski mostly camped, but he also had a few friends who opened their garages to him. Or he might pull up into his sister’s yard and sleep in a chair on the deck.
He didn’t want more than this.
“We tried,” John Sabrowski said.
Jeanne Koneczny, too, found it hard to give things to Sabrowski. She found she could offer him a Super One gift card, but only if she popped it in a birthday or holiday card.
About once a week, Sabrowski would drop by her house for a visit, knock on the door and step back to the sidewalk. He wouldn’t wait long. She and her husband met him through their work with the Irving Community Club.
She last saw her longtime friend the morning of the day of the accident, and she waved to him.
Sabrowski was a gentle soul who kept watch over the neighborhood and its residents, Koneczny said.
He cleaned up litter along the Munger Trail. He delivered found needles to the police station. He jotted down the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles. If trouble was brewing on the street, he warned Koneczny to stay home. He brought her apples in the fall.
Sabrowski visited Koneczny after she had a stroke — then admonished her for being up and about and answering the door.
"He's really going to be missed," she said.
It's common for law enforcement officials to know the homeless people in their area. Officer Jim Forsyth, West Duluth's community officer, has known Sabrowski since he started his job with the Duluth Police Department. Sabrowski tended to camp near the West Duluth police station.
Police officers weren’t Sabrowski's favorite people, since they work for the government, but Forsyth found common ground with him: fishing.
“We would sit there and talk about fishing and stuff like that — where he was going, what he was catching,” Forsyth said. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.
“There never was a lot of trust, but always a mutual respect.”
Forsyth tried to connect Sabrowski with social services, but like Koneczny, he found that Sabrowski didn’t want help.
“He didn’t trust anybody but himself,” he said.
Forsyth was in Proctor on the night of Jan. 29 when he got the call about the crash on Grand Avenue. He had a hunch it involved Sabrowski, which was confirmed when he got to the scene.
“I saw his bike; I saw him,” Forsyth said. “It was definitely kind of a shot.”
Sabrowski was crossing Grand Avenue when he was hit by the truck. The driver wasn’t impaired, according to Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, and no charges are expected.
His siblings spent the week with him at Essentia Health.
In the meantime, they have heard so many stories about Sabrowski, some popping up on his Caring Bridge site, which has had thousands of visitors.
Latuska recalled him waiting for her in the lobby of Super One, then walking her to her car one night.
“He said, ‘There are some fools out there by your car, and I want to make sure you’re OK,’” she recalled. Then he helped her load her groceries.
There have been so many calls to the intensive care unit asking about his condition, his family said, from businesses like Kwik Trip and the Holiday Stationstore, where Sabrowski had cultivated friendships with employees.
“We were delighted,” Beaulier said of all the people reaching out to the family. “We weren’t surprised.”
And within the aforementioned Facebook group, there have been updates — including one from John, of the Irving Community Club. The group has offered to help with funeral expenses.
“To us, he is West Duluth,” she said.