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Driver charged in fatal wrong-way crash posts bond, leaves jail

Police paramedics work clear crash Lake Shore Drive early Friday. / Phoby NVP

Police and paramedics work to clear a crash on Lake Shore Drive early Friday. / Photo by NVP

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Updated: May 5, 2014 10:31PM

A Chicago man who’s charged with DUI in a fatal wrong-way crash posted $50,000 bond and was released from Cook County Jail on Monday evening, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

Earlier Monday, Cook County Judge Donald Panarese had reduced bail from $750,000 to $500,000 for Erik Johnson, 23, of Chicago.

A University of Chicago law student was killed in the crash on Lake Shore Drive early Friday

Johnson, of the 3500 block of North Janssen, was charged with one count of aggravated DUI causing an accident or death; two counts of aggravated DUI causing an accident or bodily harm; and misdemeanor counts of DUI and improper use of a controlled access highway, according to Chicago Police.

About 2 a.m. Friday, Johnson was driving a 2014 Subaru SUV southbound in the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street when the vehicle struck a taxi head-on, authorities said.

The crash killed one of the taxi’s two passengers: U. of C. student Laura Anne LaPlante, 26, of Hancock, N.H., who was on track to graduate from the law school this summer, according to a university spokesman.

Johnson was leaving a party when he drove his Subaru Crosstrek the wrong way up a Lake Shore Drive ramp from Grand about 1:50 a.m, prosecutors said in court Sunday.

After crossing the Chicago River, traveling southbound in the northbound lanes, Johnson struck the taxi head-on in the far left lane, according to a Chicago Police report.

LaPlante and the other passenger, who were not wearing seat belts, were partially ejected from the cab, prosecutors said.

After the crash, Johnson left his vehicle and urinated on the median of Lake Shore Drive, prosecutors said. He told paramedics that he drank “five to six beers and shots” before he got behind the wheel, prosecutors said in court.

Johnson told police that he was driving to St. Louis, according to a police report. The report indicated that Johnson, whom authorities say had a blood alcohol level of .195 — more than twice the legal limit — had three passengers in the back seat of his vehicle at the time of the crash.

Johnson’s father appeared in court Sunday after flying in from Long Island, N.Y., over the weekend.

William Johnson told reporters outside the courtroom that the fatal accident was a “tragic incident.”

“Our condolences to the family,” William Johnson said. “We’ve been praying since we heard.”

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

Michael H. Schill, dean of the U. of C. Law School, wrote in an email to students and faculty: “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. Laura left each of us better human beings than we would have been in her absence. Her friendship, engagement and love enriched us.”

The cabbie and the other passenger in the taxi — a 25-year-old man university officials said also is a U. of C. law student — were taken to Northwestern Memorial in serious condition.

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