Dwight Washington

Dwight Washington, a former City of Chicago employee who was drunk and on-duty when he crashed a city pickup truck into a crowd of pedestrians on the Near North Side last spring, pleaded guilty today to four counts of aggravated DUI. (Chicago Police Department / March 23, 2012)

A brace on her right foot and a cane in her right hand, Jennifer Anton, 26, walked slowly to the front of a Cook County courtroom today to describe the pain she's endured since a former City of Chicago employee who was drunk and on-duty crashed a city pickup truck into her and other pedestrians on the Near North Side last spring.

Anton took a seat at the witness stand and stated the date of the crash -- May 21, 2011 -- before breaking down in tears. She paused to collect herself, then described that Saturday as "a day that forever changed my life."

The truck's driver, Dwight Washington, 62, had pleaded guilty moments earlier to four counts of aggravated DUI causing great bodily harm. He is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday.
 
Anton, who has undergone a dozen surgeries to repair a broken pelvis and multiple leg fractures but still needs more operations, said after court that it was hard to look at Washington in the courtroom as he listened to her, other victims and their relatives describe the struggles they've endured since the crash.
 
"He's a person just like you, but he caused so much pain and so much hardship," Anton said of Washington, who declined to address the court when given the opportunity. "I hope he knows what he did and understands."

Washington was working as a laborer for the Department of Streets and Sanitation when he crashed at Cedar and Rush streets in the bustling Gold Coast neighborhood.
 
The truck jumped a curb and slammed into Anton, a nanny who was out for a walk with a toddler in her care. Anton shoved the stroller out of the way just before she was hit.

Tyler Jones, the 20-month-old girl whom Anton was pushing in the stroller, escaped with only minor injuries. The child's father, Hugh Jones, later hailed Anton as a hero.

Six other pedestrians -- including people participating in a commercial photo shoot depicting a wedding -- were hurt, one critically.

One of the victims, Stephen Dewart, said in court today that he broke four vertebrae and will spend the rest of his life with a titanium rod in his right leg.

The horror of being pinned under the truck in the moments after the crash still haunts him, he said.
 
"I was delusional to the point of wondering whether I was alive or dead," he said from the witness stand.
 
Washington had a valid driver's license and a clean driving record at the time of the crash, but prosecutors said he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.183 percent, more than twice the legal limit to drive.

Police who responded to the crash smelled alcohol on Washington and noticed he had bloodshot eyes and was unsteady on his feet, according to court records.

An open bottle of E&J brandy was found lodged under the truck's gas pedal.

Washington's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Monique Patterson, said in court that Washington was supposed to be off the day of the crash but was called in to work.

She said he had been drinking before being called in but was afraid to turn down the shift because he feared he'd lose his job if he didn't work.
 
"Mr. Washington is deeply regretful about what occurred," said Patterson, who asked Cook County Associate Judge James B. Linn to be as lenient as possible when he sentences Washington next week. "He is willing to accept responsibility for the tragic accident that happened that day."

Washington, who is in custody, is no longer employed by Streets and Sanitation, a department spokeswoman said.

rhaggerty@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking