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Billionaire James Crown, Civic Committee leader, dies in crash at Colorado racetrack

Billionaire James Crown dies in car accident
Billionaire James Crown dies in car accident 00:46

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Billionaire James Crown, a leader of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, died Sunday in a car crash at a Colorado race track.

Crown, 70, a businessman and socialite who was part of Chicago's wealthy Crown family, was killed in a single-vehicle crash at Aspen Motorsports Park in Woody Creek, Colorado, according to the Pitkin County Coroner's Office.

The coroner said James Crown suffered multiple blunt force trauma in the crash, but an official cause of death has not yet been determined, pending an autopsy. The manner of death has been ruled an accident.

"Jim was a friend to so many and a consequential member of our Board of Trustees," the Aspen Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based educational and policy studies nonprofit, said in a statement. "We mourn his passing and ask that the Crown family's privacy be respected at this time." Crown served as Aspen's board chair from 2016 to 2022. 

Crown, who owned the Aspen Skiing Company, lived part time in Pitkin County, in addition to Chicago.  The Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, designed by artist Jaume Plena, is named after his family, and was partly financed by the Crown Family Philanthropies, which donated $10 million to the project.

In a statement, Mayor Brandon Johnson said he was "devastated" to learn of Crown's death.

"A lifelong Chicagoan, Jim gave back to the city through philanthropy and leadership on a number of civic and academic boards as he was deeply committed to investing in Chicago and its people. With his generosity, Jim truly embodied the soul of Chicago. I was especially grateful for his commitment to work collaboratively with my administration to build a safer Chicago, having met recently to share ideas. I send my deepest condolences to his wife, four children, grandchildren, and the entire Crown family and pray for their peace," Johnson said.  

Crown recently spearheaded an initiative by the Civic Committee to raise tens of millions of dollars over the next several years to work with organizations and local leaders to help fight crime in Chicago.

The new initiative is meant to bring all the players around the same table to fight crime. The idea is that collaboration is key to making Chicago the best it can be.

Earlier this month, Crown said the hope is to improve safety throughout the city -- including for his employees, and for tourists who support Chicago businesses.

Some of Chicago's richest are planning a large investment in the effort – including attorneys, CEOs, and university presidents. Crown also acknowledged it's something he and other CEOs should have been working on earlier.

The Civic Committee's new plan involves both long- and short-term investment promises – mainly hiring employees from underinvested communities on the South and West sides, and working with preexisting community violence intervention programs to help them expand their reach.

"These are really things that are unique to what business can bring to the table - and this is the part that we are willing to play," said Robert Boik, vice president of public safety at the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. "A lot of the work right now is just being done independently - and if it could be corralled around a common set of goals in metrics, we think the city would really benefit from that."

The Civic Committee is a group made up of senior executives of Chicago's leading employers. Some of the wealthiest members of the city are now pledging funds and resources to fight crime.

"We are not the solution," Boik said. "There's a lot of other players in the space and corralling all of those efforts around one singular goal and initiative, we think it's very critical."

"The business community hasn't traditionally been involved in this issue, and I think given the level of attention that public safety receives every day, I think our members, you know, wanted us to play a role in that," Boik added.

CBS 2 compiled data from over the past few years. The homicide rate across the city peaked at 804 in 2021.

The committee hopes that by joining forces with the state and local governments and community leaders, they can get that number down to 400 – half.

Chicago hasn't been under that number since 1965. The Civic Committee also wants to bring the city's annual number of murders below 200 within 10 years.  

"I don't think we're sitting here promising that those numbers are going to land where they want them to be, but we have to have aggressive goals," Boik said.

The plan also includes investing in the South and West sides – focusing on business development there – as well as working with the Chicago Police Department to enforce the consent decree mandating court-ordered reforms. Boik is the former executive director of the Chicago Police Department Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform.

"Where we can sit across the same table from the Police Department, utilize our voice, and also potentially even bring resources to the table," Boik said.

Much of the plan is still in the early stages. We will keep tabs on its progress.

The Civic Committee said its members plan to meet with Mayor Brandon Johnson about their goals in the coming weeks. A spokesperson for the Mayor's office did tell us they are subscribed to a similar collaborative approach.

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