Skokie woman mourned after fatal crash with US Capitol rioter, Quinn skips mayor’s race and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Bill and Evelyn Wegner described their daughter Lauren (in photo) as a “ray of sunshine” who could “light up a room walking in.”

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a five-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be cloudy with a chance of snow, wind gusts as high as 25 mph and a high near 31 degrees. Tonight will see isolated snow showers and a low near 22. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy with scattered flurries and a high near 27.

Top story

Skokie woman ‘was happy’ days before fatal crash with U.S. Capitol rioter, now charged with her murder

Lauren Wegner sat down on the couch a few Sundays ago, dressed in a Green Bay Packers jersey, hat and socks, and she told her parents that she was “so happy” she’d come home to Skokie.

The 35-year-old who had once attended Niles West High School and loved animals — and the Packers — told her parents she was in “such a good place right now.” Then, to her father who had urged her to come home from North Carolina, she also said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“Boy, that meant so much to me,” Bill Wegner said yesterday. “That she was happy.”

A few days later, Lauren Wegner left to visit friends in St. Louis. But her parents, Bill and Evelyn, said they never got the usual text message from their daughter assuring them that she had arrived safely. Instead, they heard from the Illinois State Police, who told them Lauren had been killed in a crash downstate on Interstate 55, which occurred just after 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.

Now, a Sangamon County grand jury has charged Shane Jason Woods, 44, of Auburn with Wegner’s first-degree murder. Court records filed by Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright allege that Woods drove northbound into the southbound lanes of the interstate with the intention of running into a semitruck, and that he made suicidal comments to a police officer. 

Bill Wegner described his daughter as “a ray of sunshine” who “could light up a room walking in.” She’s also survived by a brother, Christopher. She played volleyball in high school and more recently worked as a bartender at Morrison Roadhouse in Niles. Her father said he always called her his “bestest gurl.”

In a phone call with the Chicago Sun-Times, Bill Wegner acknowledged that the murder charge filed against Woods “takes a little load off your mind.”

But in the background, Evelyn Wegner could also be heard saying, “We were crying tears of joy.”

The crash that killed Lauren Wegner also seriously injured two others. Afterward, Woods’ blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.177%, or more than twice the legal limit, records show. Woods is also charged with aggravated driving under the influence and aggravated fleeing.

Woods is one of 33 known Illinois residents charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. He pleaded guilty in September to committing assault on the U.S. Capitol grounds and assaulting and resisting a federal officer. He admitted then that he rammed into an officer who had already been sprayed by a chemical irritant, and that he knocked a cameraman to the ground with a “blindside shoulder-tackle.” 

Jon Seidel has more on this tragic story here.

More news you need

  1. An unusual terrorism case in Chicago came to a close today when a federal judge handed a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence to a former DePaul University student who tried to aid the Islamic State with a computer script. The 23-year-old’s prosecution was believed to be the first of its kind when it began three years ago — a terrorism case brought against a U.S.-based defendant involving computer code.
  2. Former Gov. Pat Quinn announced today that he will not join the crowded field of candidates seeking to deny Mayor Lori Lightfoot a second term. Although Quinn had circulated nominating petitions and conducted a poll that showed the race was winnable, he has decided to remain on the outside looking in, our Fran Spielman reports.
  3. Mayor Lori Lightfoot yesterday launched a lobbying campaign to persuade a skeptical City Council to create a new transit tax increment financing district by Dec. 31 to bankroll $950 million of the $3.6 billion cost of extending the CTA’s Red Line. The goal is to expand the line from 95th Street to 130th Street to reach “communities that have been disconnected from rail service forever,” the mayor said.
  4. Chicago Public Schools is receiving a $25 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist who earlier this week gave $23 million to two Chicago charter school networks. CPS has a $9.4 billion budget this year, meaning the $25 million will help some programs but not make a big dent in the district’s funding shortfall.
  5. Chicago police say they will be increasing their presence on trains and buses ahead of the busy holiday shopping season. More officers will be patrolling downtown business district stations as stores open earlier and close later, Chicago Police Commander Joe Bird said.
  6. Metra has announced it will operate special holiday train rides to Millennium Station with Santa and Mrs. Claus on three weekends in December. Festive Metra Electric Line trains will run from south suburban University Park to a magical-looking Millennium Station decorated as a “North Pole winter wonderland,” Metra officials said.

A bright one

Lincoln Park Zoo’s new lion habitat wins Chicago Innovation Award for development and features

From the roar of a lion to the roar of a crowd.

The folks at the Lincoln Park Zoo who were behind the creation of a new cutting-edge lion habitat were honored yesterday with a Chicago Innovation Award.

“To be receiving an award alongside other winners like startup companies and other for-profit companies, this feels like just a great recognition for the Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Maureen Leahy, who works as vice president of animal care and horticulture and helped design the Pepper Family Wildlife Center’s lion exhibit.

The exhibit, which opened in the fall of 2021, features temperature-regulated rock formations, zip lines and pulleys that deliver meals in a way that allows for stalking and hunting behavior, climbable trees that were sustainably harvested and an enclosure that allows visitors a nearly nose-to-nose experience.

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s new lion habitat opened in the fall of 2021 and has been feted for its state-of-the-art design.

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s new lion habitat opened in the fall of 2021 and has been feted for its state-of-the-art design.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The award honors the zoo’s “state-of-the-art, data-driven lion habitat enhanced for natural wildlife behaviors and improved customer engagement.”

Staff at Lincoln Park Zoo developed an app called “ZooMonitor” that allows volunteers to chart animal behavior by observing and entering data into a tablet that’s used to analyze trends and preferences.

“Compared to the previous habitat, the space use is just amazing,” Leahy said. “They are using every nook and cranny and feature, which is an incredibly wonderful feeling.” 

In all, 20 programs and products were recognized by Chicago Innovation, a group that seeks to empower the Chicago innovation ecosystem by educating, connecting and celebrating innovators.

Mitch Dudek has more on the zoo and the full list of winners here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What tips do you have for someone riding CTA for the first time?

Send us an email at newsletters@suntimes.com and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday we asked you: What is Chicago’s unofficial pastime?

Here’s what some of you said...

“Skating Babbbby!” — Samantha Vendredi Lee

“Drinking and watching our teams.” — Barb Frenzel

Chicago’s unofficial pastime? Complaining about the weather — whether it’s too cold, too hot, too snowy, too rainy, too windy - rare are the days that we’re not ‘hot under the collar’ about Mother Nature.” — Paul Lockwood

“16 inch softball.” — Stanley Williams

“Sitting on the front porch. I miss that so much. Lived on Addison Street. Miss watching the traffic and people.” — Dennis Nowak

“Chilling at the lake. Listening to house music. Barbecuing winter, spring, summer or fall.” — Terri Michelle

“Snag fishing.” — Phillip Anderson

“Road construction.” — W.A. Johnson

“Beefing about everything. What side is the best? What pizza is the best? What Italian beef is the best?” — Deborah Wynne

“Bar culture.” — Marianne Quandt

“Judging people when they try to parallel park.” — Karen French

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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