2 Investigators: Distracted Driver Gets Leniency After Fatal Wreck
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CHICAGO (CBS) – A top state official says reforms are due in the wake of a fatal accident caused by an allegedly distracted driver who was not criminally charged – who, in fact, got off relatively easy in traffic court.
“I’m upset, real upset. Because the system failed my daughter,” Carol Speer says. “And I feel it’s failed a lot of people.”
Her daughter, Patricia McNamara, was killed last September after a driver rammed into her car at the intersection of Harmony Road and Route 20 in McHenry County.
The driver, Kenneth Englert, admitted to McHenry County Sheriff’s police that he didn’t see the warning of an upcoming stop sign because “he was distracted by his phone,” according to the crash report.
“The keys were too small so he was having a difficult time,” Undersheriff Andrew Zinke tells 2 Investigator Pam Zekman. “When he finally did make contact with the person he was trying to call, the accident happened.”
A spokesman for the McHenry County States Attorney’s office says there was not enough evidence to charge the driver with anything more than blowing a stop sign.
Records show Englert had three prior speeding tickets for which he got fined. In 2007, he was found guilty of speeding in DeKalb County and fined $75. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to speeding in Carol Stream and was fined $75 and placed on court supervision.
In 2010, he was charged with failure to reduce his speed in Elk Grove Village and fined $115 and placed on court supervision.
Following the September 2011 fatal crash, Englert’S attorneys negotiated a plea deal with the McHenry County States Attorney’s office on the charge of failing to obey a stop sign.
He was fined $551 and required to take four hours of traffic safety classes as a condition of his court supervision sentence, which means the conviction will not count on his official driving record.
“I was outraged,” Speer, the mother, says. “I felt that what he was doing my daughter paid the ultimate price for.”
Now her daughter’s husband is suing Englert for negligence that led to her wrongful death.
“I don’t understand how you could wind up killing somebody and all you get is a slap on the wrist,” Kevin McNamara says.
Attorney Mark Dinos, who filed the lawsuit, said the motorist should have been charged with reckless driving.
“This is similar to a drunk driving situation when you consider the level of distraction of that driver,” Dinos says.
“When there’s a fatality, supervision shouldn’t be on the table,” McNamara says.
The Illinois Secretary of State agrees and says he will push for legislation to fix it.
“I just think it’s wrong, wrong, wrong,” Jesse White says.
White said he will present both the Patricia McNamara case and another previously reported on by the CBS 2 Investigators to his traffic safety committee to come up with possible legislative changes.
Mohammed Ahmed, a cabdriver, was found guilty of failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian as she crossed the street with the light. Eighty-six year old Coral Kier died of her injuries.
Ahmed was fined $345, and sentenced to court supervision. That violation will also not appear on his official driving record, and he is still licensed to drive a cab.
“This poor old lady died,” says Speer, who was prompted to contact the 2 Investigators after seeing a report on Ahmed. “And it brought back the memory of my daughter dying, and I wanted to see justice done.”
A spokesman for McHenry County States Attorney Louis Bianchi says the office “seriously reviewed” the Englert case and believed he could not be charged criminally with reckless homicide or involuntary manslaughter.
“We did not believe the facts support it,” said Michael Combs, chief of the Criminal Division.
Combs defended the plea bargain deal for Englert, saying failure to stop at a stop sign it is a “petty offense” and was all they could prove.
Because Englert did not have any moving violations in the past year, Combs said he was eligible for court supervision.
“We would take the position that if someone was eligible for supervision we would not oppose it for this offense,” Combs said.
Englert’s attorneys would not allow him to comment for this report because of the pending lawsuit.