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Cause of suburban Chicago crash may be traced to prescription

Many Cook County drivers think that as long as a drug is prescribed or otherwise legal that consequences for impaired driving and accidents are avoidable. However, legal impairment may be caused by any drug.

Drivers under the influence of prescription medicines, particularly painkillers, can be just as negligent in a fatal car accident or wrongful death as a driver intoxicated by street drugs or alcohol. Criminal and civil charges are severe for driving under the influence with or without intent.

An Oak Forest man whose primary job is as a life-saving Orland firefighter was recently charged with the death of a young Downers Grove driver. Authorities have lodged reckless driving, homicide and speeding charges against the 45-year-old suspect.

Investigators said the fire official was under the influence of prescription drugs, possibly related to an injury that has kept the driver off the job since last summer. Prosecutors allege the driver was whipping in and out of traffic and driving at speeds that exceeded the local limit by about 25 mph directly before the fatal crash.

Reports say the Oak Forest resident was in an SUV that struck two vehicles. The first impact with another SUV spun the firefighter's personal vehicle into the path of an oncoming Oldsmobile.

The 25-year-old woman in the second vehicle was hospitalized and died from injuries hours after the crash. Two other people also sustained injuries. The firefighter was not seriously hurt.

A court set bail at $250,000 for the off-duty lieutenant.

No DUI charge has been filed, perhaps because investigators have yet to learn whether the prescription played a significant role. The driver may have been prone to aggressive driving behavior even without medication.

The injuries and death that resulted from the collisions may lead to personal injury and wrongful death claims. Civil trials that assess negligence and damages can run concurrently with a criminal case but are separate legal actions.

Source: downersgrove.patch.com, "Firefighter Speeding, on Prescription Meds at Time of Fatal Crash: Prosecutor," Amanda Luevano, March 5, 2013

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