Two blue star-shaped balloons danced in the wind created by fast-moving cars Thursday afternoon on California Avenue, fluttering in memorial for a Cook County Jail corrections officer who was killed in a hit-and-run at the very spot hours earlier.
Nikkii Bostic-Jones was heading to her usual overnight shift just before 11 p.m. Wednesday when she was struck while trying to cross the street in the 2900 block of California.
Family members gathered at a relative's South Side home and reminisced about Bostic-Jones' warm, loving personality and competitive nature. As the oldest of seven siblings, she was described as a role model and among the first in the family to complete college, relatives said.
The union representing corrections officers said that stretch of California a few blocks south of the criminal courthouse has long been dangerous because of speeding cars and called on the city to install a crosswalk and stoplight. The Sheriff's Department had requested a crosswalk and signs there about a year ago but never heard back, an agency spokesman said.
Chicago police said Bostic-Jones was just yards from the entrance to the jail when she was hit by a navy blue conversion van with stolen plates and possibly blue and white stripes. She was knocked into the path of a sheriff's squad car and pinned underneath it.
Sources said a suspect was being questioned Thursday night. Police found a vehicle similar to the one described at the scene, with a license plate number that nearly matched the one listed in a community alert, a source said.
The death of the popular corrections officer left not only co-workers struggling, but also inmates in the maximum-security division where she worked, sheriff's spokesman Frank Bilecki said. The inmates — awaiting trial on murder, rape and other violent crime charges — were offering prayers and condolences to her family, Bilecki said.
"She would start her shift off with a hug for her co-workers and by saying, 'Have a great day,'" Bilecki said. "She did a phenomenal job in her job. The detainees were sad because she treated them with respect."
The officer in the squad car that also hit Bostic-Jones was devastated and was undergoing crisis counseling after treatment at St. Anthony Hospital.
"He's very fragile right now," Bilecki said.
Bostic-Jones, 38, grew up on the West Side with dreams of going to college. Raised by her grandmother, she was the oldest of seven children who became the leader of the family, relatives said. She set an example for her family by making it through college despite switching career goals from nursing to law enforcement.
"We're a small but close family," said her 25-year-old sister, Tamika Bostic. "She's the one that kept us together."
Bostic-Jones' husband, James Jones, said his wife left their suburban Plainfield home for work Wednesday night after her usual goodbye to him and their 6-year-old daughter, Nikkia: "Love you all."
Tamika Bostic said her sister hosted every holiday, birthday party and summer gathering in her plush backyard. When Bostic-Jones wasn't playing on her computer or iPad, she would challenge male family members to Xbox games, wearing the headset and talking smack just like the guys, said her cousin, Shannon Bostic.
Jones said weekends were devoted to "family time" because his wife worked the night shift. They often rented a movie for the family to watch while eating popcorn.
The two had been married for seven years but had been together many years before that. They grew up three blocks from each other and attended Collins High School. Jones said he spent Thursday making arrangements for his wife's funeral and spending time with their daughter.
"You can't lie to her. She knows," he said of his daughter. "She was watching the news and she said, 'Turn it up, I want to see Mommy.' I told her that, 'Your mommy got hit by a car, and she got hurt real bad, and she passed away.' She understands, she knows."
Tribune reporters William Lee and Jeremy Gorner contributed.