05-04-07, 10:24 AM
This story is not new but this case made it through the courts now I guess. I quote:
"Matt Wilhelm of Peoria died of head injuries in September after he was hit by a car while he was bicycling. The driver of the car was downloading ring tones into her cell phone and swerved off the road and hit Wilhelm. The driver pleaded guilty to improper lane usage and paid a $1000 and was ordered to attend traffic school............."
Illinois law offers two choices:
Petty offence of improper lane usage.
Reckless homicide which requires proof that the person acted purposefully.
My reaction to this is total distrust of the fairness of these kind of legal reasoning.
I will minimize Road biking in Illinois and warn other bikers about this nonsense.
The purpose of this post is not to complain about the deadly mistake of one driver but to complain bitterly about this reasoning of the judicial system in Illinois.
Now that is the kind of law it would be well worth some time and energy to get changed.
Yup, This happened outside of Urbana, IL.
Jennifer Stark came to be known as the "ring-tone killer" during the time the news was in the forefront. She apparently posted some rather self centered comments on her MySpace account about how her life was ruined by all the negative press. Her page was quickly removed after it was immediately deluged with comments like "at least you have a life --even though you live it as a bizzy ditch"
There may yet be some positive outcome from all of this since it has prompted some effort to reform current laws http://www.prairienet.org/mattslaw/?What_We_Seek_to_Do
I continue to follow this. I have a son at U-of-I (Urbana-Champaigne) with a bike, so this hit me dead center.
05-04-07, 12:37 PM
As a former Illinois resident this is heart breaking. But its not unique to Illinois. I am really fed up with people messing about with their cell phones and nearly running me over. When will our law-makers wake up and figure out that cell phone use and text messaging is every bit as dangerous as drunken driving?
05-04-07, 12:43 PM
It's not too late to get a Negligent Vehicular Homicide law passed. It already passed the House and is in a Senate committee now.
Illinois cyclists should contact their state representatives to let them know how they feel about it. Additional details on the proposed law change are at http://bikelib.org/ under Bicycle Legislation, House Bill 1382
Here is additional background copied from page 3 of The Illinois Bicyclist Winter Issue about the attempt to create the offense of Negligent Vehicular Homicide in Illinois.
By Julia Reitz, Champaign County State's Attourney
Matt Wilhelm, 25, died on September 8, 2006, after he was struck by a vehicle on September 2 while riding his bicycle on Illinois 130 in Champaign County. The driver, Jennifer Stark, 19, admitted that she had been distracted by her cell phone and left her lane. When she looked up, she saw Matt, but was unable to get out of his way to avoid hitting him.
At the conclusion of their investigation, the Illinois State Police wrote Ms. Stark a ticket for Improper Lane Usage, a petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1000.00. The prosecutor is not required to follow the decision of the police agency. We have the discretion to decline to prosecute, or to file additional charges. In light of Matt’s death, we reviewed the State Police investigation and considered filing more serious charges against Ms. Stark.
The only other possible charge available to us was Reckless Homicide, a class 2 felony punishable by from 3 to 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Reckless Homicide requires a finding that the accused acted purposefully, with a knowing acceptance of a specific risk, and with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, when causing the death of another. Following extensive research, consultation with other prosecutors, judges, and attorneys, we determined that Ms. Stark’s actions, while clearly negligent, did not rise to the level of recklessness as it has been defined in the statute and in case history, making a Reckless Homicide conviction unlikely.
There is a significant hole in Illinois law with regard to traffic fatalities. Prosecutors are left with a choice between two charges: a petty offense punishable by a fine, and a class 2 felony, punishable by a significant prison sentence. Neither of the possible charges or penalties appropriately address the facts of the Wilhelm case and many cases like it: a driver, through his or her negligence, causes the death of another. Many other states have Negligent Vehicular Homicide statutes, which provide for increased penalties when a driver negligently causes the death of another.
With the assistance of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, the Wilhelm family, the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, and our local legislators, my staff and I have drafted a proposed new law to create the offense of Negligent Vehicular Homicide in Illinois. This offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year incarceration in the local Correctional Center, or by a community based sentence of public service work and education. We also propose that the offender’s driver’s license be subject to a mandatory term of suspension. Currently, the Secretary of State has the discretion to suspend an offender’s driver’s license following a traffic fatality.
As State’s Attorney in Champaign County, I appreciate the support that the League of Illinois Bicyclists has provided for this proposal. A Negligent Vehicular Homicide law would help Illinois prosecutors more appropriately address tragic circumstances such as Matt Wilhelm’s death, and would benefit all users of our public roadways.
05-04-07, 01:13 PM
Here is what I see reading above responses, all of which are informative but getting my blood pressure way up:
"She apparently posted some rather self centered comments on her MySpace account about how her life was ruined by all the negative press."
This means to me that she has learned nothing and others like her feel excused or justified
"There is a significant hole in Illinois law with regard to traffic fatalities. Prosecutors are left with a choice between two charges: a petty offense punishable by a fine, and a class 2 felony, punishable by a significant prison sentence."
This is to me legal mambo jumbo. She killed the guy with reckless driving no less reckless than drunken driving or speeding. Taking your eyes off the road and going into the other lane is reckless driving. Killing someone is to me Wrongful Death not much different than murder.
I wonder what would have happened if she would have run over a child or a disabled person. There are of course more advocates for those groups. Bikers are not represented that well.
That kind of justice stinks to me.
05-04-07, 04:13 PM
"Reckless homicide which requires proof that the person acted purposefully."
That entire statement seems to be something of an oxymoron. Smells bad regardless of what you call it.