Steven James Lewis had ridden his bike through California, New England, Europe and parts of Asia before he found himself in Derby on June 3.
Lewis, 39, was in the midst of a cross-country bicycle trip with his two dogs when he was struck by a pickup in Derby that day. He died the following afternoon.
He went everywhere with his two dogs, Abby and Darby, whom he would tow behind his bicycle in a carrier.
Darby was killed on impact, police have said; Abby survived the crash and is in the care of Lewis’ family.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
Derby police officers continue to investigate the case. No arrests had been made as of Tuesday.
‘Something different about him’
Lewis, a California native, began his most recent bicycle trip in South Carolina in 2014.
Before he left the state, he spent a few months at a Trappist monastery there to reflect and meditate in silence.
“I am not interested in obtaining monetary wealth or accumulating earthly possessions,” he wrote in a letter to the monastery. “In order to improve the quality of life in those that I encounter, my intentions reside wholly with enriching my soul through meditation, prayer and submission to God.”
After he left Mepkin Abbey, his trip wound through Florida, Alabama and other Southern states to Texas, where he stopped in Houston in December 2015. There, he met Amy Lasko.
Lasko, 33, hosted him for his first few nights in town through Couchsurfing, a website that Lewis used to find willing hosts’ couches to sleep on at night.
They fell in love and had a “whirlwind romance,” she said.
“I’m not a crazy person. I don’t fall in love easily,” Lasko said. “I don’t get swept off my feet. I’m very, very rational.
“There was something different about him.”
He left Houston a few days later, but eventually came back to see her.
He was spiritual, she said – “It was two human beings simply connecting and sharing our truths.”
Some of her friends were incredulous of the relationship, she said.
You have this deep connection and it’s a beautiful thing, but you’re scared of it, too, because you don’t understand it.
Amy Lasko, girlfriend of Steven James Lewis
“You have this deep connection and it’s a beautiful thing, but you’re scared of it, too, because you don’t understand it,” Lasko said. “Around you, people are saying, ‘This is insane. This is crazy – you don’t even know each other,’ but yet you feel like you know this person.”
She said she was ready to sell everything she had to travel around the country with Lewis, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave her house and debts behind.
There weren’t any firm plans, she said, but the two wanted to find someplace where they could eventually settle down and live together.
On his trip, Lewis prided himself on being able to live on $4,000 per year, which he had saved in the years prior, Lasko said.
Sometimes he would stop and work jobs in the towns he passed through, though it had been a while since he’d worked, she said.
He would travel, at most, 20 to 25 miles per day, stopping to chat with locals and experience “all the sights, the smells and the feels,” she said.
“He was not a racing cyclist,” she said. “He was just trying to connect with his surroundings and the people around him.”
When he was not staying with someone through Couchsurfing or Warmshowers.org, he would “stealth camp,” Lasko said.
His two dogs, Abby and Darby, “were his world,” Lasko said.
He towed them behind him in a carrier equipped with premium cushions, she said, and would plan his routes around stores where he could buy dog food and his dogs’ medication.
“I think he had more stuff in there for the dogs than he had for himself,” she said. “He took such good care of them.”
The dogs were treated like family; at times, Lewis would cook them broccoli, sweet potatoes and other treats, Lasko said.
They were rescue dogs, she said, and Lewis tried to raise awareness for rescues wherever he went.
“He always said the dogs humanized him – otherwise, he’d just be some weird curly-haired guy riding a bike,” Lasko said.
He left Houston, heading north, around the end of March, she said.
He lived his life the way he wanted to and he created his happiness.
Amy Lasko, girlfriend of Steven James Lewis
“You don’t find many people that think outside of the box and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, and Steven did that,” she said. “He lived his life the way he wanted to, and he created his happiness.”
She said she’s thinking about making “a weird kind of documentary” about Lewis’ life.
“He was a very loving, caring soul,” Lasko said. “People need to realize they need to find their own happiness and not feel like they have to fit into somebody else’s box.”
Derby police officers are “still getting (their) facts put together on the case,” and expect to present it to the district attorney’s office next week, according to Derby Police Chief Robert Lee.
Police have said Lewis was traveling north on Rock Road from 95th Street, which is just south of town.
Rock Road is a four-lane, paved road there.
Lewis was struck by a pickup driven by 79-year-old Derby resident Frederick Bohm Jr., who is cooperating with the investigation, Lee said. The pickup was also traveling north, according to police.
Any charges filed in the case will be determined by the district attorney’s office, he said.
“We’re quickly winding down our investigation, and we’ll schedule an appointment here shortly with the DA’s office to thoroughly go through all the details of the case,” Lee said.
“I think it’s fair to say that the driver did not see the bicyclist, and we’re investigating as to why that occurred.”
Letter from Steven Lewis to Trappist abbey explains his worldview
In an April 22, 2014 letter, Steven Lewis wrote to Father Guerric Heckel, monastic guest master at South Carolina’s Mepkin Abbey, requesting to be a guest at the abbey and experience monastic life. He stayed at the abbey for a few months, according to his girlfriend, Amy Lasko. The letter reads as follows:
I am an individual of modest means and temperate ambitions. I am not interested in obtaining monetary wealth or accumulating earthly possessions. In order to improve the quality of life in those that I encounter, my intentions reside wholly with enriching my soul through meditation, prayer and submission to God. During my brief journey, I have learned to accept the world around me as it exists. Struggling to find myself, and place, in this grand scheme we refer to as life, I have discovered kind, unassuming and faithful people are rare individuals indeed. I am awestruck by the grace and grit these individuals possess and I wish to model myself after those who truly demonstrate compassion without reservation. Since I have ignored, and consistently disobeyed, my initial call to serve God eight years ago, this period has been fraught with discouragement, depraved indifference and hopelessness. More recently, I underwent a physical and spiritual change through epiphany. Having accepted my destiny, I came to a realization that I am not in control. At this point I turned my presence over to the care of God without reservation or compunction. Since this point, I have no longer been carrying the burden of paralyzing fear, guilt or despair. It is my sincerest intention to spiritually walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and His apostles and I am determined to live a life of humility and gratitude in accordance with my everlasting blessing. In order to assist with the calling to serve God that I have received, and I am convicted of, I am writing to humbly submit to Mepkin Abbey and ask to receive your permission to enter the Monastic Guest Program. Through my service to Mepkin Abbey, I hope, and intend, to utilize my experiences as a catalyst to absorb and disseminate the gospel of Jesus Christ. With kind regards and blessing, Steven James Lewis
Source: David Carden/Facebook