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Driver charged in fatal crash had ‘5 to 6’ drinks: prosecutors

Erik Johns/ Phofrom Chicago Police Department

Erik Johnson / Photo from Chicago Police Department

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Updated: June 6, 2014 6:23AM

A Chicago man charged in a deadly wrong-way crash on Lake Shore Drive last week told first-responders that he had “five to six beers and shots” at a party before getting behind the wheel, prosecutors said in court Sunday.

Erik Johnson was driving a 2014 Subaru SUV southbound in the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street when he struck a taxi head-on about 1:50 a.m. Friday, authorities said.

Testing done after the crash indicated that Johnson, 23, had a blood-alcohol level of .195 — more than two times the legal limit of .08, prosecutors said.

A witness told police that Johnson, of the 3500 block of North Janssen, seemed intoxicated after the crash when he emerged from his vehicle and urinated on the median of Lake Shore Drive, Assistant State’s Attorney Colleen Rogers said.

Meanwhile, the witness and several others assisted the injured people in the cab, according to prosecutors.

Two of the cab passengers, who were not wearing seat belts, were partially ejected in the crash, prosecutors said. One of the passengers, Laura Anne LaPlante, 26, of Hancock, N.H. — who was about to graduate from University of Chicago Law School — died from her injuries, a spokesman for the school said.

The other passenger in the cab — a 25-year-old man, is a U. of C. law student, according to university officials. He was in serious condition Sunday at Stroger Hospital, authorities said. The cab driver was treated for a broken arm and released from a hospital, prosecutors said.

Johnson, dressed in blue medical scrubs, remained silent Sunday during an appearance before Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas, who ordered him held in lieu of $750,000 bail.

He was charged with felony reckless homicide; felony aggravated DUI causing an accident or death; two felony counts of aggravated DUI causing an accident or bodily harm; one misdemeanor count of DUI; and improper use of a controlled access highway, according to court documents.

Johnson, who told police that he was driving to St. Louis, suffered only minor bruises in the crash, according to a police report. The report also indicated that Johnson had three passengers in the back seat of his Subaru.

After the court hearing at the George Leighton Criminal Court Building, Johnson’s father told reporters the accident was a “tragic incident.”

“Our condolences to the family,” said William Johnson, who flew to Chicago from Long Island, N.Y., after he learned of the crash. “We’ve been praying since we heard.”

Erik Johnson works as an importer/exporter for a company in Elk Grove Village, his attorney, Ed Pietrucha, said.

LaPlante’s family could not be reached for comment. But her university family reflected on her life and sudden death.

“Laura was a leader in her class, the president of the Federalist Society, treasurer for the Law School Republicans and an active member of the St. Thomas More Society, the Law Women’s Caucus, and the Edmund Burke Society,” Michael H. Schill, the dean of the University of Chicago Law School, wrote in an email to students and faculty. “She spent last summer as an associate at WilmerHale in Boston and was to join the firm as an associate in the fall. She was well-known at the law school for her warmth and kindness, always the first to volunteer to help out at an event or to help a friend, always with a smile for everyone.”

“I cannot make sense of the passing of such a wonderful, vital young woman, who would surely have done so much in her life to make the world a better place,” Schill said. “Laura left each of us better human beings than we would have been in her absence.”

“Her friendship, engagement and love enriched us,” Schill said. “The outpouring of love and care, not just for Laura, [the male passenger] and their families, but for each other, that has taken place since this awful event occurred last night has been an inspiration. We will need to tap into the special closeness that we feel for each other as we move forward over the next days and weeks helping each other through our grief.”

Contributing: Sam Charles and Mitch Armentrout

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