Modeling photo of Irma Sabanovic

Professional modeling photo of Irma Sabanovic. (Mike White, for the Tribune)

Concrete barriers were erected at a dead-end street on the Chicago River today, two days after a car containing the body of a missing model was pulled from the water there.

City crews placed the barriers across Blackhawk Street, just west of North Branch Street. Similar barriers had been placed on the other side of the river after a cab plunged into the water in 1992, killing the driver.

Investigators believe Irma Sabanovic, 25, drowned after her Ford Focus plunged off Blackhawk and into the river in the rainy, early morning hours of May 12 as she tried to find her way to meet friends at a nightclub.

Sabanovic's death was similar to the 1992 crash that killed cabdriver Rick Roman when he veered into the river from the opposite bank while driving on Blackhawk, said Charna Halpern, director of iO Theater, where Roman was a promising comedic actor.

"It's an optical illusion. It looks like a straight clear road, and you can see the lights of the city on the other side, like the road goes straight through," Halpern said. "It's a horrific death and it's so infuriating to me that this has happened again."

A "no outlet" sign at the corner of Blackhawk and North Branch Street on the east side of the river is the only permanent indication the street ends. On Sunday, portable metal railings blocked the entrance to the river, and there were crowd-control sawhorse barriers nearby put up by the Chicago Police Department.

The barriers on Blackhawk on the west side of the river are marked with an Illinois Department of Transportation logo.

Sabanovic was driving to meet friends at Exit, a bar on the west side of the river on North Avenue a few blocks north of Blackhawk. About 2 a.m., she had texted a friend that she was lost. She was never heard from again.

Sabanovic had planned to visit her sisters in Bosnia last week, just a few days after her birthday. In the days after her disappearance, friends formed search parties to look for her across the city, and they raised $15,000 to use as a reward for tips about her location, said her close friend, Jelena Zanko. That money now will go to pay for her funeral expenses, Zanko said Sunday.

The outpouring of support for Sabanovic and her family showed how easily she won over people with her beauty and charm, Zanko said. Sabanovic, who had regular modeling gigs under the name Ira Blackbird, was studying theater and hoped to become an actress.

"She loved acting and loved being in front of people making people laugh," Zanko said. "People loved her, cameras loved her. She would've been great."

Halpern said she can recall her sense of loss when police called her to identify Roman's body and that Roman's fists and forearms were bruised as if he had pounded on the windows of his cab as it sank. Roman was a promising member of ImprovOlympic at a time when the cast included stars such as Amy Poehler and Adam McKay, Halpern said.

"Rick was the one who brought Adam to me from Philadelphia," she said. "This girl, she was so gorgeous, she could have been a supermodel, and Rick, he was so talented and unique, who knows where he could have been in comedy today?"

csadovi@tribune.com

rhaggerty@tribune.com