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Criminal Justice

U of Chicago law student leader dies after wrong-way traffic crash; driver is charged in DUI case

Posted May 5, 2014 11:45 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A third-year law student who was a popular leader at the University of Chicago died last week following a wrong-way traffic crash in which a driver is now facing felony charges.

Laura LaPlante, who was president of the school's Federalist Society chapter and known for her organizational skills and her interest in and concern for others, was six weeks from graduation and had a BigLaw job lined up for the fall. She was 26 years old.

The Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and the New Hampshire Union Leader have stories.

Authorities said the accident occurred at about 1:50 a.m. on Friday, when a taxicab in which LaPlante and another U of C law student were passengers was struck head-on by a car traveling south in the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near downtown Chicago. LaPlante was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital at about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The other law student, who was not identified, was initially hospitalized in critical condition, later upgraded to serious. Neither he nor LaPlante was wearing a seat belt and both reportedly were partially ejected from the taxi.

The driver of the southbound vehicle, Erik Johnson, 23, was charged with multiple felonies including reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence. He is being held in lieu of $750,000 bail. Cook County prosecutors said his blood-alcohol level tested at more than twice the legal limit of .08.

In addition to her work for the Federalist Society, LaPlante also held leadership roles in the Law Women's Caucus and the Law School Republicans and organized a running group for law students, among other activities. Yet despite her busy schedule she always took time to connect with others and was remembered by those who knew her for her warmth and concern.

"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," said the law school's dean, Michael Schill, in a written statement obtained by the Tribune.

"At the same time, during Laura's short time on earth, she made an impact. Laura left each of us better human beings than we would have been in her absence. Her friendship, engagement and love enriched us."

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