A woman who died after the taxi in which she was riding was hit by a suspected drunken driver going the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive was about to graduate from University of Chicago Law School, authorities said Saturday afternoon.
The driver, whose vehicle collided with the taxi, killing Laura Anne LaPlante, of Hancock, N.H., and injuring himself and two others, was charged in connection with the crash Saturday night.
Erik Johnson, 23, of the 3500 block of North Janssen Avenue, is due in court Sunday. He was charged with reckless homicide and driving under the influence.
"It is with profound sadness" that I tell you that LaPlante died, said University of Chicago Law School Dean Michael H. Schill in a written statement obtained by the Tribune. "This is a heart-rending loss."
LaPlante was scheduled to graduate this year from the South Side school, which had flags ouside at half-staff, according to John Bright, who answered the phone at the school.
LaPlante was the president of the Federalist Society at the school, treasurer for the Law School Republicans, an active member of the St. Thomas More Society, the Law Women's Caucus and the Edmund Burke Society, and had planned to join the Boston law firm WilmerHale as an associate in the fall after working there last summer as an associate, Schill said.
Schill said she was well known at the University of Chicago Law School for her "warmth and kindness " and was always ready to volunteer her help for either school events or friends -- "always with a smile for everyone."
LaPlante's companion in the taxi was in "stable but critical" condition and that "the thoughts and prayers of the entire Law School family are with his family," Schill's statement read. He is also a law student at the university, Schill said.
Schill said that counselors will be available to help students deal with the news.
"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 Schill said in the statement.
"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. The outpouring of love and care not just for Laura, Michael and their families but for each other has taken place since this awful event occurred last night has been an inspiration."
LaPlante was set to graduate June 14 and already had a job lined up with a Boston law firm, said her classmate Michael Lanahan, who said he was at the hospital with dozens of other classmates after the accident.
She was an avid runner and Catholic who attended Mass each week. Despite the pressure of law school, she always made friends and classmates feel like she truly cared about how they were doing if they met to chat in the law school lounge.
"Laura really really cared about people on an individual level," said Lanahan.
Lanahan said he last saw LaPlante hours before the accident at a dinner she helped organize for a law student group, the Federalist Society.
She was geared toward corporate law and had a "very deep interest in policy and what was going on with the world."
"There are probably a bunch of people who would say they were good friends with Laura which is true because she connected with people so well,'' Lanahan said.
The crash happened at Randolph Street as a man, later identified by police as Johnson, drove a 2014 Subaru SUV south in the northbound lanes and collided with the taxi, a 2013 Toyota Prius, at around 1:50 a.m. Friday, according to police.
LaPlante, 26, of Hancock, New Hampshire, was pronounced dead about 6:30 p.m. Friday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. Results of an autopsy were not immediately available.
She and a 24-year-old man she was with in the taxi were initially taken to Northwestern in critical condition.