Illinois Bill Seeks Stiffer Sentences for Impaired Wrong-way Drivers

March 14, 2017

The mother of a Chicago Ridge, Ill., police officer killed in a 2015 crash with an intoxicated, wrong-way driver is pushing for legislation that would increase penalties for people convicted in such crashes.

Lisa Smith is supporting a bill in the Illinois Legislature that would allow judges to impose a harsher sentence in an impaired driving case if the motorist was driving against traffic. The Illinois House easily approved the bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Michael Zalewski, on Feb. 22. It’s now up for consideration in the Illinois Senate, the Daily Southtown reported.

Smith’s son Steven Smith, 27, was killed in September 2015 when the car he was in was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 294 near Hillside. The Marine reservist, who was in his first year as a full-time Chicago Ridge police officer, was off-duty at the time.

Smith says the 22-year-old Bristol woman found criminally responsible in her son’s death recently received a five-year sentence – a sentence she calls “a slap in the face.” She believes his death should be treated as a murder.

“From the beginning, since my son passed, I had been wanting to make a change to do something,” Lisa Smith said. “His life made a difference. I needed his death to make a difference. I couldn’t just accept the fact that he’s just gone because a senseless, stupid act.”

Under current state statute, impaired drivers who kill someone are subject to a sentence of three to 14 years behind bars, but a judge can impose as little as probation in “extraordinary circumstances.”

The statute allows judges to impose tougher sentences for reckless or impaired drivers who are repeat offenders or who exceed the speed limit by more than 20 mph. The legislation also would allow the stiffer sentences for impaired wrong-way drivers.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Illinois Executive Director Sam Canzoneri said that there have been more than 50 fatalities and nearly 300 injuries in the state due to wrong-way crashes since 2005.

Canzoneri said if the legislation becomes law, Illinois would become the first state to make impaired wrong-way driving an aggravating factor in sentencing.

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