SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The family of a woman killed in a police chase and wrong-way crash on Interstate 55 in Sangamon County are taking law enforcement to court for wrongful death.
The Village of Divernon and its Police Department, along with Sangamon County and its Sheriff’s Office, were named as defendants in the lawsuit brought by the father of Lauren Wegner. Three officers were also named as individual defendants, and so was the man accused in criminal court of killing Wegner, Shane Woods.
Woods is charged with six counts, including first-degree murder and driving under the influence, in connection to the Nov. 8, 2022 crash. Prosecutors said Woods was drunk when he fled from a traffic stop in Divernon, got onto Interstate 55 driving the wrong way and hit Wegner’s car head-on. Her car became engulfed by flames and Wegner was pronounced dead at the scene.
The first-degree murder charge, prosecutors said, was because of suicidal comments Woods is said to have made to the Divernon Police officer who pulled him over. Woods is also said to have told a family member visiting him in the hospital that the crash was intentional.
Through their lawsuit, the Wegner family claimed that the Divernon officer did not take steps to prevent Woods from leaving the traffic stop, like taking his car keys or ordering Woods out of his truck. A Sangamon County Sheriff’s deputy who assisted with the traffic stop was also named as a defendant because the Wegner family said the deputy did not position their car in front of Woods’ truck to cut off his escape route.
The Wegner family also claimed that by pursuing Woods, the deputy and officer knew they were endangering other vehicles like Wegner’s. The family added that the officer and deputy either knew or should have known that Woods was suicidal and drunk based on his comments and the noticeable smell of alcohol on his breath.
From the evidence available, the Wegner family accused the officer and deputy of willfully endangering Wegner and others, while accusing Woods of negligently and recklessly driving his truck, all of which, they said, resulted in Wegner’s death.
Prosecutors believe Woods’ suicidal mindset was to avoid sentencing on charges related to the riot at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Woods was federally charged with two counts of assault for attacking a police officer and a Reuters journalist during the riot.
He pleaded guilty two months before the crash, which happened while he was free on bond conditions. Woods was sentenced in October to four-and-a-half years in prison for the assault charges.
Sangamon County court records indicate that Woods was denied bail following his murder arraignment and he remains in the custody of the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office. A jury trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 29, 2024.