Family members of victims killed in traffic accidents may feel detached during criminal trial proceedings. Survivors play largely an observer's role during the prosecution of a defendant by the State of Illinois. Many families may feel justice works outside them rather than for them.
A 66-year-old man was operating a work vehicle, a Ford Taurus, when he drove the wrong direction on an Illinois highway in 2011. The drunk driver slammed head-on into a Chrysler Cirrus - also under the control of an impaired operator - and killed a 32-year-old female passenger.
As the Cirrus flipped over, the Ford struck a second oncoming vehicle, driven by the husband of the woman who died.
The Taurus driver was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI, along with five other alcohol-related offenses. He was freed on $250,000 bond for three years. Between the time of the crash and his retirement in May 2013, the defendant kept his job as a clerk for the village of Lynwood.
Village officials determined the elected official, a 24-year government employee, should not be removed from office.
The drunk driving accident case recently was resolved with a plea deal. The former clerk pleaded guilty to the aggravated DUI and homicide charges and received a six-year prison sentence. That was less than half of what he might have served had a guilty verdict been rendered for all charges.
Reports said the sentencing judge took the defendant's "medical issues" into account, without revealing what the health problems were.
The family of the woman who lost her life in the wrong-way DUI filed a civil suit against the defendant. That case is pending.
A wrongful death case allows survivors to make personal claims and arguments for losses they suffered. While criminal punishments benefit society as a whole, settlements and damage awards compensate family members directly, so they could move forward realistically and emotionally following a tragedy.
Source: The Times, "Former Lynwood clerk gets 6 years in prison for DUI fatality" Gregory Tejeda, Jan. 21, 2014