CHICAGO (STMW) — Diana Paz’s family is just coming to grips with the fact she didn’t live to see her 26th birthday Sunday.

The fog of grief and questions about the events that led to the South Side woman’s death early Friday — first a drunken-driving arrest, her release from police custody two hours later and then, finally, getting struck by a Toyota pickup truck as she walked in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway — is all-consuming, said her sister, Maria Paz, 27.

“It’s too hard to believe that this happened to her,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.

“We were looking forward to her birthday,” she said, choking up. “My mom was going to surprise her with her birthday cake.”

About 3:30 a.m. Friday, Illinois state troopers pulled over Diana Paz for driving the wrong way on the Eisenhower. Paz, of the 8800 block of South Escanaba, refused a Breathalyzer and failed field sobriety tests, according to Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

She was arrested and taken to the nearby Westchester Police Department, and she bonded out about 5:40 a.m. At the time of her release, she was “alert,” Bond said.

Paz told police she had no family or means of transportation, and she requested a ride to a nearby gas station, authorities said. As a courtesy, a state trooper took her there.

Thirty minutes later, authorities received a call that a pedestrian had been struck by a vehicle in the inbound lanes of the Eisenhower just east of Westchester Boulevard, State Police Master Sgt. Michael Witt said.

The victim struck by a Toyota pickup was later identified as Paz. She died a short time later.

According to a witness, Paz was walking in a marked median area east of Mannheim Road when the truck crossed the median area and struck her, State Police said. The driver of the pickup was charged with violating the restricted median.

Maria Paz questions why the state troopers agreed to drop her sister off at a gas station only hours after her DUI arrest.

“I don’t understand why law enforcement would let her leave like that,” she said. “They should keep someone who is intoxicated until they’re sober. And if she’s still intoxicated they should have dropped her off at home. They should have done something better than dropping her off and leave.”

Bond said “it’s not uncommon” for troopers to give arrestees rides after they bond out of jail.

Family members last saw Paz on Thursday, before she left for work at a nursing home, her sister said. Paz then gathered with friends after she got off work, about 10:30 p.m. Thursday, at a co-worker’s home, said Maria Paz, citing at least one conversation family had with a nursing home manager.

Maria Paz also wonders why her friends didn’t take her sister’s keys if she was drunk.

Diana Paz had hoped to finish school and pursue a career in criminal justice, her sister said. Perhaps most wrenching is that she leaves behind a 5-year-old son, Erik, her family says.

“She was a very good mother, daughter and sister,” Maria Paz said. “She was very hardworking, very independent, looking forward to starting her career — she was setting a good example to her son.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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