UPDATED 05/24/11 9:08 p.m.
CHICAGO (STMW) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he has ordered Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne to tighten supervision to prevent a repeat of the Gold Coast accident that saw a city laborer accused of driving drunk and plowing into a crowded sidewalk, injuring seven people. WBBM’s Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports from City Hall.
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Emanuel noted that termination proceedings have already begun for 61-year-old laborer Dwight Washington, whose blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when the accident occurred Saturday, according to prosecutors.
But the new mayor said a firing will not suffice for a tragedy that will change the lives of injured pedestrians and cost Chicago taxpayers millions of dollars in legal settlements.
“One of the things I said to Commissioner Byrne was I want to know what steps need to be taken so, in the future, this does not occur again — both at the level of management and at the level of employees,” Emanuel said.
“You take these moments, you deal with them and there are lessons learned for future. And I’ve directed Commissioner Byrne to come back with recommendations.”
Random drug and alcohol tests are required only for city employees who hold commercial drivers licenses. Because Washington was a laborer assigned to empty garbage cans and collect stray debris, he was not subject to that requirement.
Laborers are tested only after getting into accidents on the job. Washington was tested after a job-related accident in March 2010 that resulted in property damage, but his test for drugs and alcohol “came back negative,” said Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Streets and Sanitation Department.
“Random drug [and alcohol] testing for laborers would have to be negotiated with the union. The city cannot implement the tests unilaterally,” Smith said in an e-mail response to the Chicago Sun-Times.
At the time of Saturday’s accident, Washington was driving a city Ford F-150 pickup with an open bottle of E&J Brandy next to him, prosecutors said.
He is being held on $400,000 bond after being charged with four counts of felony aggravated DUI and two counts of misdemeanor DUI. He was also cited for transporting open alcohol in a vehicle, failure to reduce speed and negligent driving.
Witnesses have told police that Washington accelerated as he drove onto the curb at 7 E. Cedar at around 12:20 p.m. The injured ranged from a 20-month old pushed out of the way by his heroic nanny — who suffered pelvic, hip and leg fractures — to a 58-year-old.
Although the city has cut back on weekend supervision, Smith insisted that there was a supervisor on duty Saturday morning before Washington hit the street. He could not explain how a supervisor who eyeballed Washington could have handed him the keys to a city truck.
“Streets and Sanitation is conducting its own internal review into all aspects of this incident, including supervision, to determine if any policies and procedures should be changed to prevent such incidents in the future,” Smith said.
Byrne is a former Chicago Police officer who was a favorite of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
He is one of only a handful of Daley cabinet members retained by Emanuel, in part, because of his close ties to Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the new mayor’s City Council floor leader.
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