After his friend, up-and-coming Chicago drag performer Jherrion Bates, was seriously injured in a traffic collision late last week caused by an alleged drunken driver, fellow performer Uriah Luckett was convinced that his indomitable friend who wowed crowds as GiGi Mayonaé would be back lip-syncing and dancing to his favorite Beyoncé hits in no time.
His hopes for a recovery looked justified after Bates — still hospitalized and awaiting surgery — began posting on social media days after the accident.
"Surgery in a couple hours. I'm ready for this to be over," Bates wrote Saturday on Twitter. But the next day, Bates' health declined and he was pronounced dead Sunday afternoon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
An autopsy performed Monday determined that Bates died from a combination of a blood clot in his lower right leg and blunt-force injuries to his right hip because of the crash, along with obesity, according to the medical examiner. His death was ruled an accident, according to the Chicago Tribnune.
News of Bates' death so soon after his posts to social media devastated friends such as Luckett, who said his star on Chicago's drag scene was on the rise after he decided to leave his native Danville, Illinois, to pursue performing in Chicago.
Though Bates advertised as a "plus sized twirling diva," he was still agile enough to perform splits on stage for astonished fans.
"She was energy. She was just all smiles, a very wonderful dancer and performer, always got the attention of the crowd," said Luckett, who performs under the name Lola Rothschild. "They really loved him."
Luckett, who met Bates at a now-closed club in Champaign about four years ago and instantly struck up a friendship, wasn't surprised to see his friend on social media so soon after the crash, saying he has seen Bates overcome injuries in the past to perform.
"We've been to shows where he's broken his ankle or hurt himself and he (powered) through it and just performed to make everyone else happy. So I wasn't surprised that there was a (social media) posting where he was talking about being OK because he tries to power through everything and not show much emotion," Luckett said.
Luckett had been expecting a Facetime call from Bates the night of the crash as part of their regular routine in which Bates showed other people who were performing at the club, he said. But he never got that call.
Bates was injured about 2:15 a.m. Thursday while driving his white Ford Fusion north in the 3500 block of North Halsted Street when another driver heading south swerved around a third driver and struck Bates head-on, according to a police report.
The impact from the collision forced Bates' car to hit a parked, unoccupied vehicle on the street while it set the colliding car on fire. Video of the aftermath of the crash was posted to YouTube by local news outlet CWBChicago.
Bates, of the 6100 block of South Dorchester Avenue, was taken to Illinois Masonic.
The other driver, Gerrik Birt, 29, was also taken to Illinois Masonic for treatment and was later charged with felony aggravated driving under the influence and causing bodily harm as well as misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving without insurance, according to police. He also was cited for not staying in the driving lane, not reducing his speed and not having a license.
Birt had a blood alcohol level of 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit, according to the police report. He was released from jail Saturday on $10,000 bond.
It was unclear whether Birt will face upgraded charges following Bates' death. A spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office said police would first have to review Bates' autopsy results and consult evidence before deciding whether to pursue further charges such as reckless homicide.
Meanwhile, Bates' family was making funeral arrangements and friends of the performer were planning memorial events in Chicago and Danville.
Luckett said he's trying to get over the bitterness he feels about the crash, saying his friend "wouldn't want me to be so hateful and I'm trying so hard not to be."
He said he can only remember how his friend wanted to use his talent and the mainstreaming of drag culture to help change the world. Recently, Bates had participated in drag performances to raise money for school supplies in Danville and used his voice for LGBTQ protests.
"He moved all the way from Danville to Chicago just for drag. It was a big passion of his. It was something that he could do and was really good at," Luckett said. "It wasn't just drag, it was how he was going to change the world with it."