Legal settlements from drunk worker’s accident cost city $16 million
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter January 13, 2014 11:08AM
Dwight Washington | Chicago Police photo
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:15AM
Cash-strapped Chicago will spend at least $16 million to compensate victims of a 2011 accident caused by a drunken laborer who plowed his city truck into a crowd of pedestrians on a Gold Coast sidewalk.
On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee signed off on a $7.4 million settlement to one of the most seriously injured victims, now 26-year-old former nanny Jennifer Anton.
Two other pedestrians in Dwight Washington’s path on May 21, 2011, already have received a settlement and jury verdict of $6.25 million and $2.4 million respectively.
Anton was hailed as an “angel on this earth” for shoving aside a stroller that carried a 20-month-old child in her care a split-second before Washington’s Ford F-150 pickup truck jumped a curb and ran down a crowd out enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon at Cedar and Rush streets.
Then 61, Washington had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit — and an open bottle of brandy in the cab. He was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of aggravated driving under the influence.
Anton was among the most seriously injured of seven people in Washington’s path, and one of two victims left in critical condition.
Her pelvis, hips and legs were fractured. Skin tissue was torn off her legs. Virtually all of the bones in her body below the waist were shattered.
Her actions saved the life of Tyler Jones.
“She’s an angel on this earth,” Hugh Jones, Tyler’s father, said at the time of the accident. “There’s no question that, from the eyewitness accounts, she pushed the stroller away and took the rather colossal hit herself.”
Anton could not be reached for comment, and her attorneys, Dan Kotin and Tom Demetrio, refused to comment on the settlement. Shortly after the devastating Gold Coast crash, Kotin described his client’s heroics in glowing terms: “This young nanny . . . saved the girl’s life. And then she had the presence of mind at the scene to tell the Fire Department to go to her cellphone and how to contact Tyler’s mother. It’s amazing what she did.”
At the time of the accident, random drug and alcohol tests were required only for city employees who held commercial drivers licenses.
Because Washington was a Streets and Sanitation laborer assigned to empty garbage cans and collect stray debris, he was not subject to that requirement.
After the crash, Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered then-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne to tighten supervision to prevent such accidents.
Byrne subsequently called for laborers to be tested randomly for alcohol and drugs.
“They have random drug and alcohol testing for everybody in the Police and Fire Department. We shouldn’t be any different than them,” Byrne said then.
Byrne was asked how the supervisor on duty on the morning of the crash could have eyeballed Washington in an allegedly drunken state and still handed him the keys to a city truck.
“He didn’t see him drunk. That doesn’t say that [Washington] was drunk at 6 o’clock in the morning when he came in,” Byrne said then.
Just over a year before the crash, Washington had been involved in one other job-related accident that resulted in property damage. He was given an “oral reprimand” after drug and alcohol tests “came back negative,” city officials said.