The Chicago Ridge Village Board unanimously approved a resolution in support of House Bill 303, which would make driving the wrong way an “aggravating factor” in sentencing of people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.
As of last Friday, the bill had passed both the Illinois House and Senate, and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bruce Rauner. State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-23rd) introduced the bill, and state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) is among the co-sponsors.
The board members have been known to argue about many issues, but not this one. Intoxicated, wrong-way driving hits especially close to home for Chicago Ridge officials and residents alike since village police officer Steven Smith was killed on Sept. 13, 2015, when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 294 near Hinsdale.
Smith was a decorated Marine Corps veteran and Richards High School graduate who grew up in Chicago Ridge. His cousin was driving him back to the western suburbs to retrieve his vehicle left there by another relative after a wedding when the collision occurred at 3:45 a.m. He was scheduled to work later that day.
Sara Lopez, 22, of Bristol, Ill., was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, but members of the board expressed indignation at the relatively light sentence she received.
“The person who did this only got five years,” said Trustee Debby Pyznarski, whose husband is Police Chief Rob Pyznarski.
“This village will not walk away from this. She was going 105 mph the wrong way for 9.5 miles on I-294,” said the trustee. Pyznarski cited statistics showing that of 283 wrong-way traffic crashes in Illinois, 82 percent were found to be DUI-related.
HB 303 amends state statutes to include driving in the opposite direction of traffic on one-way roadways an “aggravating factor” in sentencing when a person is charged with driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or any intoxicating compound
“It is terrible. It is inexcusable. People are saying that it is tantamount to murder,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar. “There were 100 calls to 911 about (Lopez) driving the wrong way, and she couldn’t be stopped.”
“She only got five years because driving the wrong way was not considered an aggravating factor.”
Smith’s mother, Lisa Smith, was not at the meeting, but she has been advocating for the bill to be passed since Zalewski introduced it. She has been quoted as saying that her son was “murdered” by Lopez, using her 3,000-pound car as a weapon.
Tokar said he hoped the ongoing inability for state lawmakers to pass a budget will not delay Rauner signing the bill into law. He and other board members said it would be nice if it was called “Steven’s Law.”