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Model seen binge drinking before fatal river crash: source


Irma Sabanovic

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Updated: July 3, 2011 1:31PM

A local model was videotaped binge drinking before she was killed when her car plunged into the North Branch of the Chicago River, a city source said Friday.

The disclosure comes after Irma Sabanovic’s family filed a lawsuit against the city saying warning signs and better barricades could have prevented the accident.

Sabanovic, a 25-year-old model and college student, was last seen alive May 12 as she headed from Chuckie’s bar in Rogers Park to the Exit nightclub near North and Elston avenues.

At 2 a.m., she sent a text message to a friend saying she was lost.

Her car was pulled out of the water Sunday after it was discovered by the police marine unit. The blue Ford Focus was in the Chicago River where Blackhawk Street dead-ends on the east bank — just a few blocks south of the Exit nightclub.

A city source said a video taken at Chuckie’s showed Sabanovic drinking seven or eight beers and nine shots of liquor over a period of about 1 ½ hours. Another video showed her car traveling at a “high rate of speed” before striking trees and flipping upside down into the river, the source said.

But Ian R. Alexander, the attorney for her family, said he spoke to bartenders at Chuckie’s — where Sabanovic had worked —and they said she didn’t drink nearly that much alcohol that night.

“This is the city trying to muddy the waters,” Alexander said.

He said he’s waiting for autopsy results that may show what Sabanovic’s blood-alcohol content was when she died. The main issue, though, isn’t whether Sabanovic was drunk but why the city didn’t place a barricade and signs at the end of the street, Alexander said. He pointed out that Richard Roman, a 26-year-old aspiring actor and cabbie, was killed in 1992 when he drove his taxi off Blackhawk Street and into the river on the opposite bank. His family received a $500,000 legal settlement from the city, which installed concrete barriers and a stop sign there.

“The city made the same mistake twice, and two people died who shouldn’t have died,” Alexander said.

Anguished family members of Sabanovic — a Bosnian immigrant living in West Rogers Park — are left to fret over her last minutes, Alexander said.

“I don’t know if she was unconscious when she was in the water — we just don’t know what happened,” Alexander said. “So you can’t open the door, the car is filling up with water. This poor girl, the car is filling with water, and she’s thinking she’s going to suffer the worst death possible.”

In a statement, the city denied the claim that the street was “inherently dangerous.” It was well-lit; there was a “no outlet” sign prominently displayed at the entrance to the street; and there was an 8-inch curb at the end of the street, which is four times higher than the average city curb, the statement said.

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