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Family sues Chicago police officer, River North bar after woman killed in alleged DUI crash

Chicago Police officer, already criminally charged, has now been sued in deadly crash
Chicago Police officer, already criminally charged, has now been sued in deadly crash 02:23

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The family of a Texas woman who was killed in what police said was a drunk driving crash last year in the River North neighborhood filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday against the off-duty officer charged in the crash, and the bar where the officer had been drinking that night.

Maria Schwab, 56, who went by "Tonie," was walking outside the House of Blues around 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, when a car jumped the curb and hit her and a second woman. Schwab was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she died. The other woman who was hit suffered only minor injuries.

Maria Schwab Supplied to CBS 2

Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday against Chicago police officer Tangie Brown, accusing her of driving drunk at the time of the crash. The lawsuit also accuses Tree House Chicago, a bar at 149 W. Kinzie St., of violating the Illinois Dram Shop Act, which allows drinking establishments to be held liable for the actions of their customers if they serve them enough alcohol for them to get drunk.

"They're in a stage of grief that is very hard to explain," said attorney Timothy Cavanagh of Cavanagh Sorich Law Group, representing Schwab's family. 

In January, Brown turned herself in on felony charges of aggravated DUI involving death and aggravated use of a communication device involving death; misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and failure to give information or render aid; and traffic citations for improper lane usage and failure to reduce speed.

Brown has since been indicted on two counts of aggravated DUI, one count of reckless homicide, and one count of aggravated use of a communication device involving death, according to court records.

Chicago police officer Tangie Brown is facing multiple charges, including aggravated DUI, in a deadly drunk driving crash while off duty in December 2023. Chicago Police

Prosecutors have said Brown admitted to having three drinks at a fellow officer's retirement party at Tree House before the crash, and her blood alcohol level measured 0.093 after the crash, above the legal limit of 0.08.

Police and prosecutors have said Brown admitted she was using the GPS her phone while driving outside the House of Blues on the night of the crash, when she dropped her phone and tried to pick it up, overcorrected the car, and nearly swerved into the center median.

She then tried to correct course and swerved into the right lane, jumped the curb, and hit Schwab and a second woman, before hitting a fence. After the crash, Brown stayed in her car and failed to call for help or assist either of the victims, according to the police report.

Brown was relieved of her police powers on the day of the crash. 

Chicago Police officer sued over crash that left woman dead 01:08

As part of their lawsuit against Brown and Tree House Chicago, Schwab's family is seeking a court order to preserve the recordings of any 911 calls from the crash; any surveillance video, traffic camera, and body-worn camera footage related to the crash; all police reports and witness statements; any photographs from the scene; and any bar tabs, receipts, surveillance photos or videos, and other evidence from Brown's time at the bar before the crash.

"To ask for a level playing field, we are entitled to all of this evidence," Cavanagh said.    

Schwab was a mother and a wife described as having a contagious smile, and the ability to make everyone around her feel cherished and valued.

Maria "Tonie" Schawb and her family visit Ohio, 2019. Schwab Family
The Schwab family, Easter 2022 Schwab Family

"The family is entitled to know what happened, right? That's first and foremost. That's what we've been hired to find out -- what happened, why it happened," said Cavanagh, "and secondarily, we plan to get this case to trial to have a jury assess  the evidence in the case and award fair and reasonable compensation for this family for the loss of a wife and mother." 

The Schwab family on a 2023 Denver visit. Schwab Family
Tonie Schwab (right) at a performance of "Hamilton." Schwab Family

CBS 2 has not heard back from the restaurant or Brown's attorney in response to this lawsuit. She is due back in court Thursday in connection with the criminal case, which is separate from the civil suit.

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