Arlington woman killed in collision with bicyclist tended to others, family says

June 13, 2012

For more than a decade, Ita Lapina, 80, would race-walk each morning through the park near her home in Arlington County. She was healthy, her family said, and worried more about their welfare than her own.

On Monday, Lapina — a Russian immigrant who fled the Nazis during World War II — was killed in that park on the Four Mile Run trail when a bicyclist collided with her during her daily walk. The bicyclist rang his bell and yelled “To your left” to warn her he was approaching, county police said, and Lapina stepped to her left.

“It’s such a terrible tragedy,” said Lapina’s friend Bernice Kaufman, 81. “She was a perfectly healthy woman who was out taking her morning walk.”

Police consider it an accident and are not charging the 62-year-old bicyclist, who suffered a minor knee injury in the 7 a.m. crash and stayed on the scene afterward.

Lapina, who had some arthritis, raced through the park every morning because it made her feel good. “She liked going fast. She’d spring ahead of me,” said her granddaughter, Anna Fridlis, 26, whom she helped raise. “When I’d go with her, I’d say, ‘Grandma — slow down, wait for me.’ She was in her own world.”


Ita Lapina, 80. (Courtesy of Anna Fridlis)

Lapina immigrated to Arlington when she was 65 to be with her family, Fridlis said. Family members had been slowly leaving Russia since the 1980s to flee anti-Semitism, according to Fridlis. The family settled in Northern Virginia after a relative got a job there years ago.

When she was 69, Lapina learned to drive so she could more easily visit her two children and four grandchildren after her husband, Semeon Kats, died.

“She was such a social person, such a party starter,” Fridlis said. “My grandma and my aunt would exchange three phone calls a day. She’d say, ‘If I don’t get one, I’m going to cry.’ ”

Lapina was born in 1931 in Southern Russia and as a child evacuated to Siberia to escape the Nazis. She spent years with her family in Siberia, living in miserable conditions in a small basement, Fridlis said. She had many family members in Ukraine who were killed.

Lapina and her family eventually moved back to Astrakhan, the city of her birth, where they stayed for years. Lapina married, became an English teacher and had two daughters, Irina and Galina.

She decided to come to the United States because many of her family members were here. “They needed each other,” her granddaughter said.

Her adjustment to American culture was not easy. Her husband died shortly after she arrived, making her transition more difficult. She spent time at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax County, where she made friends.

She spent her time exercising, seeing family and friends, and watching Russian television.

She lived in senior housing, where she was popular in part because she had a car and could take friends on shopping excursions and to doctor’s appointments, Fridlis said. She was known as a gregarious caretaker.

“As soon as you walked in the door, she’d say, ‘Wait, wait, wait — you must need something. You need food,’ ” Kaufman said.

Lapina was always worried about her family, her granddaughter said. “She’d always leave you with a caution when you talked to her on the phone,” Fridlis said. “When it was raining, she’s say, ‘Be careful: Something could fall off the roof and hit your head.’ She didn’t worry about herself. She worried about everybody else.”

Fridlis said her family is devastated. They have talked to police and would like more details about the accident.

“We just want to know what happened from the bicyclist’s point of view and then just move on for everybody’s sanity,” she said.

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