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City to pay $6.25 million to pedestrian hit by drunk city worker

Updated: January 12, 2013 6:11AM

Chicago will pay $6.25 million to compensate a computer scientist who suffered a traumatic brain injury — and had to learn to walk and talk again — after a drunken city laborer plowed his city truck into a crowd of pedestrians on a Gold Coast sidewalk.

Richard Chang was the most seriously injured of seven people in Dwight Washington’s path on May 21, 2011 when Washington’s Ford F-150 pick-up truck jumped a curb and ran down a crowd out enjoying a Saturday afternoon at Cedar and Rush.

Chang was pinned underneath the truck and still requires extensive and costly care. His wife, Leann, managed to escape the crash with bumps and bruises, but she, too, is a plaintiff.

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.

“[‘Chang] was a computer scientist….earning $80,000-a-year. He cannot return to his profession and does not expect to achieve his previous level of independence,” Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, told his colleagues before aldermen signed off on the settlement.

Burke noted that Richard Chang has piled up $572,000 in medical expenses and is claiming $2.4 million in lost wages. His lawsuit “also alleged that the city failed to properly supervise Mr. Washington.”

At the time of the crash, random drug and alcohol tests were required only for city employees who held commercial drivers licenses. Since Washington was a Streets and Sanitation laborer assigned to empty garbage cans and collect stray debris, he was not subject to that requirement.

Among the seven injured pedestrians was 26-year-old nanny Jennifer Anton, who saved the life of the 20-month-old girl she was babysitting by shoving the child’s stroller out of the way before she was hit by the truck and severely injured.

Anton’s lawsuit and two others are still pending.

After the crash, Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered then-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne to tighten supervision to prevent a repeat of the accident involving a drunken city laborer.

Emanuel said a firing alone would not suffice for a tragedy that changed the lives of injured pedestrians and would cost Chicago taxpayers millions of dollars in legal settlements.

Byrne subsequently called for laborers to be tested randomly for alcohol and drugs to prevent a repeat of the horrific crash.

“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.

The commissioner 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.

Also on Monday, the Finance Committee agreed to pay $750,000 to the family of a 35-year-old woman killed after her car was hit by a Chicago Police squad car at 79th and Loomis and $5000,000 to the family of an unarmed 14-year-old shot and wounded by a another Chicago Police officer.

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