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Families' reactions differ to sentencing of Chicago officer

Family members of Cook County accident victims may feel that criminal court decisions are not adequate. Legal proceedings often move forward as family members watch in relative silence. The time relatives can express their feelings about the impact of a crime on their lives comes at court hearings, just before a convicted defendant is sentenced.

A pair of friends was killed last year when the Jeep they occupied was struck by an SUV headed in the wrong direction on Lake Shore Drive. The SUV driver, a Chicago police officer, survived with a broken hip and leg, along with the Jeep driver who suffered severe injuries throughout her body. Investigators discovered the officer's blood alcohol content level was more than double the legal limit.

The Chicago Tribune reported the officer's fatal accident in March 2013 followed a night of partying in celebration of the defendant's 35th birthday. The Jeep was en route to Midway International Airport, where the driver worked. The men who died were 25 and 27.

Seven relatives of the victims read impact statements before the court during the sentencing hearing. After acknowledging the defendant's apology and messages of family members, the judge sentenced the former officer to 10 years in prison for aggravated drunk driving. The guilty plea was the result of a deal with prosecutors.

The mother of one of the men killed in the drunk driving crash was upset the term wasn't longer and promised never to forgive the officer. The judge could have imposed a term as long as 28 years. The mother of the other man said she chose to forgive the drunk driver, because forgiveness was necessary to move forward.

Wrongful death claims are personal appeals by family members for damages caused by a defendant's negligence or recklessness. Plaintiffs sometimes find comfort when a defendant is forced to accept fault in civil court. Compensation serves to ease financial worries.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, "North Chicago cop gets 10 years in prison for fatal drunken car accident" Stefano Esposito, Apr. 25, 2014

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