Motorcycle crash kills Juneau woman

Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002

Ryan Kitka said when his fiancee, Erica Swiatkowski, smiled, she lit the room and he just knew she was "it" for him.

But around 2 p.m. Wednesday a motorcycle accident on Egan Drive took Swiatkowski's life and dimmed the light for Kitka.

"Her blue eyes and her smile - I just keep seeing her smile," Kitka said today. "She just had one of those smiles, you know? She didn't smile that often, but when she did it just lit up the whole room. Nobody ever had anything bad to say about her. She will be missed by anybody who knew her. I'll miss her. I already miss her.

"All I can say is she died doing what she loved. She loved life and she lived it as hard as she could."

Swiatkowski was riding her 1990 Honda motorcycle on inbound Egan Drive near the Vanderbilt Hill intersection when the bike swerved slightly to the right, sending it off the road and into a guardrail, said police Sgt. Kevin Siska.

Swiatkowski became separated from the bike, which traveled 282 feet down the side of the road after the impact. Swiatkowski traveled 57 feet in the other direction, police said. Capital City Fire and Rescue workers pronounced her dead at the scene.

Police Lt. Walt Boman said she died from massive trauma to the chest. Police said she was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

"There were witnesses driving in front of her and behind her," said Siska. "The one in front of her just happened to be looking in the rearview and saw her just go off the road. ... No one saw her speeding or driving erratically. She just went off the road. It was just bizarre."

Alcohol and excessive speed do not appear to be factors in the accident, said Siska, although police requested a toxicology report from the state medical examiner's office.

Kitka and Swiatkowski were going to be married in the fall.

"We just knew," Kitka said. "It happened exactly like that. ... It's a long story, but we met at a funeral in Sitka."

Swiatkowski was the friend of a cousin whose great-aunt had died, Kitka said. He was at the funeral when they spoke for the first time nearly two years ago. A few months later, Kitka said, they saw each other again. About eight months later, they moved to Juneau to put the makings of a life together.

He worked at Louie's Marine, the job that brought them to Juneau, said Ruth Nielsen, Swiatkowski's mother. She had plans to take auto mechanic classes because she liked figuring out how things worked, Nielsen said. Swiatkowski had just bought a cat named Jorma to go with her dog, Rupert, to round out the newly formed family, Nielsen said.

The couple spent the Fourth of July with their soon-to-be in-laws in one big celebration on an island near Sitka.

"She was such a free spirit," said Nielsen. "Over the Fourth she just had such a good time. Her and her sister were riding around on the Jet Skis and she and I got to have some great talks. That was the last time I saw her. I just wish I could have seen her or talked to her a little more in the last few months."

Despite the brevity of her life, Swiatkowski's family and loved ones said she was the kind of person who saw the spark in life, could fill a room with her presence and left it a better place for her having been there.

"By our society's standards she might not be considered a great person," said her father, Terry Swiatkowski, in a letter to the Empire today. "She was very intelligent and inquisitive, but got a GED as she had difficulty dealing with the rigid structure of school, she lived with her fiance in a microscopic apartment and worked minimum wage jobs.

"But I would not have traded her for the world. She was kind and hard-working and saw the unlimited beauty and potential in life. To me these are the things that count. ... Farewell Erica."

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