Family says cyclist who died in Portland crash thought all people ‘worthy of love and attention’

Siblings of Christina Holt gather at Otto’s in South Portland. Holt died Saturday afternoon after her bicycle collided with a car in Portland. From left, AJ Holt, Laura Holt-Haslam, Mary Holt-Wilson and Jordan Holt. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

Christina Holt was always on her bike.

The 44-year-old Portland woman, who didn’t have a car or driver’s license, biked almost every day from her apartment on Congress Street in downtown Portland to work as a residential support specialist for Shalom House, which connects people with severe mental Illness to community-based mental health services and housing.

She would stop at the Trader Joe’s on Marginal Way for coffee in the morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. Staff and shoppers recognized her as a regular.

Christina Holt Photo courtesy of Mary Holt-Wilson

On her days off, she’d bike to visit friends across town, or to her family’s place in Cape Elizabeth.

“She would visit people 20 miles away,” said Holt’s sister Mary Holt-Wilson.

On Saturday, shortly after 2:30 pm, Holt was on her bike when she crashed into a Subaru at the intersection of Mellen Street and Park Avenue, near Deering Oaks park. She was transported to Maine Medical Center, where she died from her injuries.

Portland Police announced Tuesday they would not be pressing charges against the driver. The crash report said that the bike hit the car, not the other way around.

Holt’s siblings said they were shocked and horrified by the news of their sister’s death. They know it wasn’t the driver’s fault. They see it as a tragedy all around. But Holt’s life for 44 years was “really a success story,” they said.

“This is a girl who didn’t have that easy. And she fought, ”Holt-Wilson said as she sat at Otto’s Pizza in South Portland with her three remaining siblings, who had come from around New England and from Florida to discuss funeral arrangements. “She fought for her life and she pulled it together.”

Christina joined the Holt family as a foster child when she was 2 years old. Sisters Holt-Wilson and Laura Holt-Haslam remembered seeing her at the local church before they began fostering her, when she was living with another foster family. Being seven and 10 years older than Holt, respectively, they were often her babysitters.

She was a “lovable hellion,” said Holt-Wilson, “defiant and strong-willed.”

“She drove me crazy growing up,” said her brother Jordan Holt.

The children’s parents, Dr. William Holt and Mary Jean Holt, formally adopted Christina and another brother, AJ, a few years later. Dr. Holt was an ophthalmologist. Christina grew up in Cape Elizabeth with her four siblings, save for a few years at boarding school. She graduated from the Winchendon School in Massachusetts and got a degree in criminology from the University of Southern Maine in 2003.

AJ Holt of Sarasota, FL and Laura Holt-Haslam of Saco share stories with their siblings about their sister Christina Holt on Wednesday. Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

As a young adult, Holt was briefly homeless. With support from her family, she found housing and eventually the job she would have for 17 years at Shalom House. Her experience informed her compassion for the people she helped at Shalom, her family said.

Holt worked overnights at one of Shalom House’s group homes, where clients have on-site support and access to community-based mental health services. Holt cooked meals, helped with medication and “was really a part of the household” to clients, said Human Resources Director Maria Gagnon.

“Many employees and clients are heartbroken,” Gagnon said Wednesday evening. “She really had this spark to her. She made the clients laugh, but took the job very seriously. “

Her siblings said she would bring friends, some of whom were homeless, to Thanksgivings in Cape Elizabeth.

“It was important to her that people were viewed as worthy of love and attention,” said Holt-Haslam.

Holt had several cats over the years, some of which she got through the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. She also had several nieces and nephews – and was the type of aunt, said Holt-Haslam, who told the kids “a little more information than their parents would care for them to know,” sneaking treats them and sitting with them at the holiday kids’ table.

Holt leaves behind a large family and friends she met through her work, living in downtown Portland and at school.

“Her hope would be that people aren’t hurting and sad, that they just enjoy life,” said AJ Holt.

According to the crash report, the 31-year-old woman driving the car Holt collided with was going east down Park Avenue at about 30 mph, toward Mellen Street, when Holt turned left from Mellen Street onto Park Avenue and hit the car.

A witness told police that Holt failed to stop at a red light on Mellen Street before making her turn and was cycling against the flow of traffic.

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