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CPD officer who killed Maria Schwab, 56, almost escaped DUI charges because supervisor failed to report case, no Breathalyzer given

The officer wasn't tested until hours after she killed the pedestrian, giving the cop an opportunity to sober up almost to a legal blood alcohol concentration level.

Maria Schwab

Update 1/31/23, 1:00 PM: Police News Affairs provided the following statement. Streetsblog commentary is in brackets.

"On January 29, 2024, Chicago Police Officer Tangie Brown, 40, surrendered for arrest to members of the Major Accident Investigation Unit at the 2nd District Chicago Police station. The Cook County State’s Attorney has since approved one (1) felony charge of Aggravated DUI/Accident/Death, one (1) felony charge of Aggravated Use of Communication Device/Death [due to Brown reportedly swerving her SUV after grabbing for her falling phone],  two (2) misdemeanor charges of Failure to Give Info/Render Aid/Injury and one (1) misdemeanor charge of Reckless Driving. She was also cited for Failure to Reduce Speed and Improper Traffic Lane Usage. These charges and citations are in relation to a fatal traffic crash that occurred on December 7, 2023, in the 300 block of N. State (18th District). Brown was relieved of police powers that same day. Her initial court appearance is scheduled for January 30, 2024, at 2600 S. California.

Image: ABC7 Chicago

According to a Chicago Sun-Times report by Matthew Hendrickson and Tom Schuba, at yesterday's hearing prosecutors said Brown was found to have had a blood alcohol concentration level of .093, just barely over the .80 legal limit. But she wasn't tested until two hours after she killed Maria Schwab, 56, giving Brown an opportunity to sober up. That's because the responding officers didn't offer her a BAC test at the scene, according to a police report.

The Sun-Times reported that Brown allegedly admitted that she had three drinks that night. A source said the officer was coming from the Near North police district's holiday party at the House of Blues. Prosecutors said Brown was witnessed heading to the parking garage after the gathering and leaving in her Infiniti SUV.

According to prosecutors, Brown was driving south when she dropped her phone as she tried to used GPS, and then tried to pick it up, the Sun-Times reported. She told responding officers that when she returned her eyes to the road, she saw she was heading toward the concrete median, and swerved to avoid it, instead hopping the curb, hitting a planter, Schwab, and another coworker, 37.

According to the Sun-Times, prosecutors said Brown struck the younger woman's leg, and pinned Schwab against a fence. The officer then reversed, causing her victim to fall several feet to a patio below the sidewalk. Schwab later died, while the other woman suffered minor injuries.

A patio below street level on the west side of the 300 block of North State near the crash site, looking north. Image: Google Maps

Following the crash, CPD supervisor Street Deputy Frederick Melean was supposed to oversee the response to the collision, but failed to show up at the scene, the Sun-Times reported. He didn't notify the police department's Bureau of Affairs about the incident. As a result, no one was there to give Brown a Breathalyzer test at the scene, when her BAC would likely have been higher than during her blood test hours later. When it became obvious Melean would be demoted for his misconduct, he retired less than a week after the crash.

Schwab's family is planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Brown, and possibly others involved in the tragedy, according to the Sun-Times.

Read the Sun-Times report here.

Read Maria Schwab's Obituary here.

Update 12/9/23, 10:45 AM: The Cook County Medical Examiner's office has identified the victim as Maria Schwab, 56, of Schertz, Texas. This article has been edited accordingly.

Friday CBS Chicago reported, "A Facebook post shows there was a Chicago Police Department holiday party going on at the House of Blues Wednesday night, but it was unclear if the off-duty officer was coming from that gathering."

According to the traffic crash report, an off-duty Chicago police officer's decision to pick up her dropped phone and take her eyes off the road resulted in tragedy. She caused her SUV to veer onto the sidewalk and fatally strike Maria Schwab, 56, who was visiting Chicago from Texas for a work event.

According to the initial Chicago Police Department report, on Thursday, December 7, around 12:30 a.m., the 40-year-old female driver of a white SUV "lost control of her vehicle before jumping the curb and striking a 56-year-old female victim who was on the sidewalk." Schwab was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Image of the collision from the crash report.

The crash report provides more information about reportedly happened. It states that the crash occurred at 320 N. State St., near the Marina City towers and the House of Blues music venue. It lists the driver as the owner of the vehicle, a 2016 Infiniti QX60 SUV. She was cited for negligent driving, failure to reduce speed to prevent a crash, failing to stay in a lane, and driving while using a phone.

Responding officers arrived to find Chicago Fire Department technicians performing CPR on Schwab according to the report. The police spoke with three witnesses who said they been walking south on State with the victim and another woman, 27, who was also struck but was not seriously injured. They said the southbound SUV driver swerved off the the road and hit both women.

The driver directly struck Schwab, who fell over a fence owned by the Marina City building, the report states. The other woman was able to jump out of the way, and the motorist only struck her knees.

The driver told police that while she was driving south, "Her phone fell to the floor of the vehicle and she attempted to grab it and took her eyes off the road," according to the report. "When [the motorist] looked up, she believed she was going to strike the median in the center of the road and attempted to avoid it by veering to the right," at which point she struck the pedestrians on the sidewalks.

Schwab was pronounced shortly after she arrived at the hospital, the report states. The 27-year-old woman was also taken to Northwestern and was in good condition with minor bruising around her knees and a minor laceration on her right hand.

The driver was transported to Northwestern to have a blood sample taken, according to the report. Her SUV was towed.

A police spokesperson confirmed to Streetsblog that the driver is a police officer, and she was relieved of her police powers on Thursday. They said CPD is continuing to investigate the case.

Both victims were from Texas. According to an ABC Chicago report, Schwab was on a work trip for the educational company Amplify. According to a KSAT report, Schwab, a resident of Schertz, TX, went by the nickname "Tonie."

It's infuriating that an officer, who was entrusted to help keep the public safe, was reckless enough to take her eyes off the road while driving to pick up a phone, with tragic consequences.

Streetsblog Chicago Fatality Tracker

Pedestrian: 27

Bicyclist: 5

2023 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data.

2023 Chicago bike fatalities

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