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Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendant charged with murder after woman killed in suicide attempt

Shane Jason Woods made a drunken suicide attempt on a highway. He instead killed a woman driving to see friends, police said.
Federal prosecutors say this still image shows Shane Jason Woods tripping a U.S. Capitol police officer after she was sprayed with bear mace during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. He is now charged with murder after police say he killed a woman during a suicide attempt.
Federal prosecutors say this still image shows Shane Jason Woods tripping a U.S. Capitol police officer after she was sprayed with bear mace during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. He is now charged with murder after police say he killed a woman during a suicide attempt. [ U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE | TNS ]
Published Nov. 17

CHICAGO — Shane Jason Woods pleaded guilty earlier this year to scuffling with a police officer during the Jan. 6, 2021, mob attack at the U.S. Capitol and faced federal prison time when his case was set for sentencing in January.

He never intended to see that court date, authorities alleged Wednesday.

Instead, Sangamon County prosecutors said Woods made a drunken suicide attempt on a downstate highway. But instead of killing himself, he took the life of a 35-year-old woman driving to see friends.

Woods, who turned 44 on Wednesday, was charged in an indictment returned by a Sangamon County grand jury with first-degree murder, aggravated DUI causing death, and DUI, according to prosecutors. He faces a sentencing range of 20 to 60 years in prison if convicted of the murder charge.

Woods, of Auburn, a small, central Illinois town, was ordered held on $2 million bail following the Nov. 8 wreck, which happened on southbound I-55 in Springfield, according to an Illinois State Police report. Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to revoke his bond at his arraignment Thursday.

Lauren A. Wegner, 35, was killed in the crash, left trapped in a burning vehicle as Woods allegedly fled from an Illinois state trooper.

At the time, Woods “was anticipating a sentence” in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, which may have been motive for the allegedly intentional crash, a police report said. A trooper who arrived at his hospital room reportedly overheard Woods tell someone his intention was to drive his vehicle into the path of a semitrailer and take his own life, according to records.

Evelyn Wegner, Lauren’s mother who lives in suburban Skokie and where Lauren grew up, said the family was crying all morning after learning that murder charges had been approved. A picture of Lauren perched on a nearby table, they all watched a news conference announcing the charges together.

“She was watching along with us,” Evelyn Wegner said. “She probably saw the whole thing.

“Lots of tears but they were sort of happy tears,” Wegner said.

They were speechless and shocked after learning of Woods’ alleged motivation.

“He was trying to commit suicide — but he ripped into Lauren and the other people instead,” said Wegner.

When asked if there was anything she would say to Woods if she could, Wegner said: “Oh, I probably couldn’t say it out loud.”

“When we first heard it, I just wished he died but now I wish he will suffer,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve to get off that easy.”

Lauren Wegner had been on her way to St. Louis to visit friends at the time of the crash.

“She was always smiling. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body,” her mother said. When the family was able to recover her phone, they saw all the messages of concern.

“Are you coming?” one read. “Did you decide not to come?”

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Evelyn Wegner said they were lucky to have the last several months with her, because she’d moved back home to Skokie when a relationship in North Carolina didn’t work out.

“Thank goodness we had her for quite a while,” her mother said.

Hundreds showed up for a memorial service. “It was gorgeous,” she said.

Lauren was “very happy,” said her mother. She was a bartender at a spot in nearby Niles, which she loved. “She couldn’t wait to go to work. They were like a family and they all showed up for the memorial. They came in shifts, it was insane. It was nothing but wonderful.”

Her co-workers told her mom: “Lauren was my ray of sunshine,” and “I can’t even tell you what Lauren did for me,” she said.

“She’ll be missed forever.”

Woods, one of a string of Illinois residents to be charged with participating in the Capitol riot, was accused of assaulting members of the media and tripping a police officer who was running from bear spray during the mob’s attempt to stop the verification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

He pleaded guilty earlier this year and was scheduled to be sentenced in January in U.S. District Court in Washington, but that hearing has now been canceled in light of the new charges. Federal guidelines called for a sentence of 33 to 41 months, court records show.

Woods had been free on bond pending that hearing. On the evening of the crash, state troopers were called to a vehicle on fire with someone trapped inside, a police report said. Just prior to the crash, a trooper had pulled over a black 2018 GMC pickup on I-55 and the trooper had “detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage” coming from Woods, the report said.

That was when Woods “fled the traffic stop” and began driving north in the southbound lanes, the report said. He allegedly plowed through an exit ramp, causing a multivehicle crash, according to the report.

The wreck left Wegner dead, injured two occupants in another vehicle and also injured Woods, the report said.

A trooper later went to the hospital and identified Woods as the driver of the “at-fault vehicle,” while Woods was lying on a hospital bed. Testing allegedly revealed Woods was intoxicated at the time, according to police.

At some point a nurse asked visitors to leave, the report stated, but before they did, the trooper who was still in the doorway of Woods’ room allegedly overheard Woods telling a woman visiting him that he had intended to crash his vehicle into a semitrailer, the report said.

Federal prosecutors in Washington filed a motion to revoke Woods’ bond on Wednesday, citing the first-degree murder charge, court records show.

His attorney in that case could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to his guilty plea in federal court, Woods was part of a large and belligerent crowd that had congregated on the lower west terrace of the Capitol following then-President Donald Trump’s speech decrying the results of the November presidential election.

As the protests grew heated, someone in the crowd sprayed bear mace toward a female Capitol Police officer, obstructing her vision. As the officer tried to pursue the person who sprayed the mace, Woods ran forward, rammed her with his shoulder and tripped her, knocking her into a metal bicycle rack. The incident was captured on a bystander’s video.

The officer told investigators she was in physical pain “and the next day felt as if she had been ‘hit by a truck,’” according to the plea.

Several hours later, Woods was part of another large group that had stormed past metal barricades into a media staging area on the Capitol grounds, forcing reporters and cameramen to flee, according to court records. Woods could be seen in videos and images captured at the scene climbing over a toppled fence, picking up and tossing cameras and other equipment that had been left behind.

Woods was also captured on another video posted to YouTube hitting a cameraman from behind “with a blindside shoulder tackle,” knocking him to the ground and causing him to drop his camera, according to court records.

One cameraman estimated the damage to his equipment caused by the mob was at least $34,000, federal prosecutors said.

According to the complaint filed in 2021, Woods was identified by several people who knew him, including a former teacher at a college he’d attended in the early 2000s, a woman who knew him and recognized his “light eyes,” and a customer of a heating and cooling company in Auburn where Woods apparently worked.

During the events of the day, Woods allegedly sent numerous photos from the scene to users on Facebook, whom he’d chatted with before about politics, the complaint alleged. One of those users had written to Woods weeks after the election that he hoped Trump “has an ace in his pockets” and that his detractors were put in jail.

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©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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