Erik Johnson repeatedly wiped his tears Thursday as he apologized for the drunken-driving crash that killed a University of Chicago Law School student and severely injured the woman’s classmate.
“I did not mean for this to happen. I’ve never supported anyone who drinks and drives nor have I done anything like this myself,” Johnson said after he pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison for the 2014 Lake Shore Drive wreck.
“I do not deserve to be here with everyone today. I do not deserve to breathe the same air as all of you. I wished this senseless act killed me alone because of my own mistake.”
Johnson, 25, apologized to all three victims who were traveling in a taxi when he slammed into them head-on with his Subaru SUV as he drove south in the northbound lanes near Randolph Street.
But his most heartfelt apology was directed at the family of Laura Anne LaPlante, the 26-year-old from Hancock, New Hampshire, killed in the crash.
“I have single-handedly taken away the life of a young woman already great but destined for great things,” Johnson said.
Johnson also had a special message for LaPlante as he stood before Cook County Judge William Lacy.
“I am devastated to think of what I have taken from you and I only wish someday, somewhere I may fall to your feet and apologize to you. I’ve prayed for you every day, and I will continue to pray for your soul and for the family I’ve taken you away from for the rest of my life.”
LaPlante was just three weeks shy from graduating from law school, as was her U of C classmate Michael Wasil, who was sharing a cab with her when they were hit.
Wasil suffered severe brain injuries and has not fully recovered.
The cab driver, who was wearing his seat belt, was also slightly injured, Assistant State’s Attorney Geraldine D’Souza said.
LaPlante and Wasil weren’t buckled in, D’Souza said.
LaPlante’s parents said they have suffered “immeasurable pain and loss” with their daughter’s death.
“We are not, and will never be, the same family without her. We will continue to struggle with sadness, anxiety, and a variety of yet-to-be-realized tensions in all the years to come,” Daniel and Roberta LaPlante wrote in their victim-impact statement that was read in court.
The LaPlantes weren’t in court Thursday because they are still grieving and couldn’t bear to come to court, according lawyer Matthew Jenkins, who is representing their family and Wasil’s in a pending civil lawsuit.
Wasil’s mother told Judge Lacy that her son was literally on “death’s doorstep” after the crash. With extensive therapy, Wasil is slowly recovering but still has a pronounced limp, she said.
Wasil was on his way to start a job in New York when Johnson’s “senseless and incredibly thoughtless” acts altered his life, Judith Wasil said.
Judith Wasil was especially angry about how Johnson exited his vehicle and urinated on the median while her son and Laura Anne LaPlante’s bodies were “hanging lifeless, halfway through the windshield.”
Johnson, whose family cried through most of Thursday’s hearing, said while he won’t give excuses, that day was “when he lost complete control over everything I’ve ever been taught and everything I believed in.”
Johnson had been drinking with his co-workers before he got behind the wheel.
Johnson’s father, William, also spoke of his son’s remorse in court.
“We can hope for but do not expect forgiveness, but can only ask for mercy,” William Johnson said.
After Thursday’s emotional hearing, Johnson’s attorney Edward Pietrucha said, “There are no winners in this. If he [Erik Johnson] could reverse the clock, he would.”