Jury awards 3.9 million dollars to family in civil suit over DUI crash

From the Chicago Tribune, story by Kimberly Hornek:

A jury awarded a $3.9 million verdict to an Oak Brook family and the daughter’s friend, who were injured in a 2011 crash with a drunken driver.

Jose D. Rodriguez, 29, of Cicero, in September 2012 pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated DUI, the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office reported.

Rodriguez’s vehicle crossed into oncoming traffic on York Road on Nov. 12, 2011, and hit a vehicle driven by Margaret Bennett head-on near Robin Hood Ranch, the state’s attorney’s office reported.

Bennett, her young daughter and her daughter’s friend had gone out for ice cream after seeing a play at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, G. Grant Dixon III, the LaGrange attorney who represented the Bennetts, said in a statement this week.

After the crash, Rodriguez, Bennett, and the two girls had to be extricated from their vehicles and were taken to the hospital with serious injuries, the state’s attorney’s office reported.

An investigation revealed that Rodriguez’s blood alcohol content was at least 0.14 percent when he crashed, the state’s attorney’s office reported. The threshold by law is 0.08 percent.

Bennett’s right leg and ankle were crushed, among other injuries, Dixon said in his statement, adding that Bennett has undergone six surgeries so far.

The girls, too, suffered numerous injuries, including a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain, Dixon said.

The jury returned its verdict after a six-day trial in the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago, Dixon said.

Whether Rodriguez will appeal, is “still under consideration,” said Clifford Panek, the attorney who represented Rodriguez. “This is just the first stage,” he said.

“I think the verdict was reasonable,” Panek said. But it is unlikely Rodriquez, who is serving an eight-year sentence in prison for the crime, will be able to pay the amount awarded in the verdict, Panek said.

Dixon said in his statement that he anticipates the victims will file additional litigation against Rodriguez’s insurance company, Unique Insurance in Niles.

How does marijuana use affect driving?

Both Houses of the Illinois legislature have passed a new bill which, if approved by Governor Rauner, would eliminate Illinois’ current “zero tolerance” of marijuana consumption and driving and instead set a per se level of 15 nanograms of cannabis in a person’s blood.  This is intended to be a marijuana equivalent to the 0.08 BAC used for driving under the influence of alcohol. Some police departments have argued that the 15 nanogram standard is too high.  Colorado and Washington have set their limit at 5. But how much marijuana is too much to drive?  How does marijuana affect driving?  The truth is that there hasn’t been much of an effort to find out. Until now.  And it looks a lot closer to 15 than 5. From Time.com (story by Eliza Gray):

A rigorous federal research study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers new data on the effects of marijuana on driving performance. The exact impact of marijuana on driving ability is a controversial subject—and it’s become more important states continue to loosen their drug laws. And, while drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S., driving after having smoked or otherwise consumer marijuana has become more common. According to the most recent national roadside survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.3 percent had some alcohol in their system and 12.6 percent tested positive for THC—up from 8.6 percent in 2007. It is illegal in all states to drive under the influence of anything, but years of work went in to establishing the .08 breathe alcohol limit that exists in most states. The question is whether we can establish a similar threshold for pot. To find out, the study recruited 18 occasional cannabis smokers, 13 of them men, between the ages 21 and 37. The participants took six 45-minute drives in a driving simulator—a 1996 Malibu sedan mounted in a 7.3 diameter dome—at the University of Iowa. Each drive tested a different combination of high or low concentration THC, alcohol, and placebos (to create a placebo, participants were given fruit juice with alcohol swabbed in the rim, topped of with 1ml alcohol, to mimic alcohol’s smell and taste). The researchers looked at 250 parameters of driving ability, but this paper focused on three in particular: weaving within the lane, the number of times the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. While alcohol had an effect on the number of times the car left the lane and the speed of the weaving, marijuana did not. Marijuana did show an increase in weaving. Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, showed increase weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. For reference, 13.1 ug/L THC is more than twice the 5 ug/L numeric limit in Washington and Colorado. Dr. Marilyn Huestis, the principal investigator in the study, says it is important to note that the study looked at the concentration of THC in the driver’s system while they were driving. This is quite different from the concentration typically measured in a drugged driver out on the road, whose blood may not be checked until several hours after an arrest, allowing the THC level to drop considerably from the time they were driving. Huestis says the researchers are looking at how to estimate how long it takes for THC concentrations in the blood to drop. Huestis believes that the 5 ug/L limit is not strict enough, particularly when you take into account those with low tolerance. The study also found that pot and alcohol have more of an impact on driving when used together. Drivers who used both weaved within lanes, even if their blood THC and alcohol concentrations were below the threshold for impairment taken on their own. “We know cannabis is primarily found with a low dose of alcohol,” Huestis says. “Many young people have a couple beers and then cannabis.” Smoking pot while drinking a little alcohol also increased THC’s absorption, making the high more intense. Similarly, THC delayed the peak of alcohol impairment, meaning that it tended to take longer for someone using both to feel drunk. Such data is important to educate the public about pot’s effects before they get on the road.

Man drives to police station, asks to be arrested for DUI

Here is a sign that you are drunk: you drive to the police station and request to be arrested for DUI.

If you weren’t so drunk, maybe you would just call the police instead of driving there.

Or maybe you wouldn’t call the police at all.

From Yahoo! News:

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Authorities say a man drove under the influence of alcohol to a small-town Kentucky police station, where he requested that officers arrest him.

The Kentucky New Era (http://bit.ly/1MNoFOI) reports that 26-year-old Christopher L. Stewart drove to Tuesday night to the station in Hopkinsville, near the Tennessee border, and slammed on his brakes, nearly hitting a police cruiser. The newspaper reports that Stewart approached officers and said he was ready to go to jail for DUI.

The paper says he told police he drank a pint before driving to the station. Police say Stewart also attempted to drink a closed bottle of fuel injector cleaning fluid, but officers stopped him.

He was charged with driving under the influence.

25 year old Mundelein Trustee Arrested for DUI

dakotahFrom the Pioneer Press, story by Rick Kambic:

Mundelein Village Trustee Dakotah Norton was charged over the weekend with driving under the influence of alcohol, according to police — which is now his second criminal charge since 2007.

Vernon Hills police stopped Norton, 25, of the 100 block of Racine Place, Mundelein, at 11:15 p.m. Sunday, after police said they saw erratic driving.

According to police reports, officers saw Norton’s car driving in the middle of both southbound Butterfield Road lanes after turning off Allanson Road.

Police said Norton’s car swerved to the right in order to pass another vehicle and then swerved to left to resume its original position.

Even though the light was red, he then made a left turn from Butterfield Road onto eastbound Townline Road, according to police.

Upon stopping him a few blocks later, police noticed the odor of alcohol on Norton’s breath and decided to conduct a field sobriety test, which he failed, reports show.

“I’d like to apologize to anyone I could have hurt while I was on the road, I’d like to apologize to the Village of Mundelein for the damage this arrest will cause to our reputation, and I’d like to apologize to everyone who believed in my mission when I ran for office,” Norton said on June 17.

He secured the third open seat on the Mundelein Village Board when he collected more than 25 percent of the votes during the April 7 municipal election. He was sworn into office on May 11 and has served in two meetings so far.

Norton said he was at home casually drinking with some friends the night of June 14 when he decided to get some groceries from the Wal-Mart in Vernon Hills.

“I don’t think I was a danger to anyone, but it was a lack of judgment to even risk it,” Norton said. “It was wrong; I should have asked someone else to drive or not left the house at all.”

“I think it’s important to not hide this, but I also don’t want it to detract from the goals and issues I’m working toward on behalf of the Mundelein taxpayers,” Norton said.

Mayor Steve Lentz said he’s aware of the situation and has no plans to conduct a hearing or investigation.

“I spoke with Dakotah and he was very apologetic toward me and the village. He then described his plans for correcting his behavior,” Lentz said. “I walked away from the conversation feeling satisfied. I believe he was being very sincere with his apology and with the plans he laid before me.”

Norton is scheduled in court July 15. However, the DUI charge is not Norton’s first encounter with police.

Court records show that Norton was charged with delivery of marijuana in November 2007, according to Cynthia Vargas, a spokesperson for the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Norton pleaded guilty, according to court records, and was given 24 months of probation and 100 hours of community service; he was also required to complete a treatment program.

His probation fell under an Illinois law pertaining to first-time drug offenders, which allows courts to withhold judgment and sentence an offender to probation. If the probation is successfully completed, the court may dismiss the charges.

Norton successfully completed his probation, according to Vargas.

When asked about the arrest, Norton said he was a teenager at the time and that he was experimenting and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was making some bad decisions back then, but I don’t think they were devastating or dangerous,” Norton said. “That arrest taught me that actions have consequences, and I haven’t had any run-ins with the law since then. But now my bad decision on Sunday discredits all that growth I went through these past eight years.”

Read the whole story here at:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/mundelein/news/ct-mun-dakotah-norton-dui-tl-0625-20150617-story.html (behind the Tribune’s paywall)

Tribune investigation shows that Chicago Police Review Process is a joke

A cynical person may ask why the Chicago Tribune, as a member of the “Fourth Estate” puts its important investigations behind a paywall, where the general public cannot see it.  Oh, by the way, I am a cynical person.

Anyway, they have a story, behind its paywall, showing that the “Independent Police Review Authority” is a joke.  Basically, investigating complaints of police misconduct is too hard and it would unfair to officers when investigating new claims to review past ones to see if there is a pattern of similar complaints.

I am sure that the Police officials who set up this phony baloney police review process (in most years there are approximately 0% findings against police officers) justified it as a way to support our police officers and keep them from being harassed by low lifes who they think are out there constantly filing fraudulent complaints.  And I am sure there are some.

But the fact is that Chicago has paid out more than a half billion dollars in police brutality settlements since 2004.  That is just the payouts; it doesn’t count the expenses of fighting these cases.  Or all the other people who were wronged by police but not sufficiently to justify a lawsuit.  Plus, a lot of cases of police misconduct are still dismissed by the federal courts because the police are given a lot of leeway.

That half a billion dollars doesn’t grow on trees.  It comes out of our pockets.  And our children will be paying their pensions, because hardly any of them ever get disciplined.

More importantly, by letting bad cops get away with breaking rules tarnishes the reputation of the entire force with the public.  How do you expect people to respect the police when so many people have had experiences with dishonest cops who get away with it and nobody cares?

Here are some key highlights of the story (liberated from the paywall), which was investigated and reported by Jeremy Gorner and Geoffery Hing.  The full story is much longer:

Few Chicago police officers who are accused of misconduct are found to be at fault, and when they are, most of them are cited for minor infractions that carry little if any punishment, a Tribune analysis of data found.

In fact, nearly three-fourths of the officers found to have committed some kind of wrongdoing weren’t docked any time off or received suspensions of five days or less, the analysis of Police Department records shows.

Department critics and some police accountability experts say people filing complaints against the police face obstacles and long odds in getting their allegations investigated and then substantiated. Nearly 60 percent of all the complaints were thrown out without being fully investigated because the alleged victims failed to sign required affidavits. What’s more, investigators won’t consider an officer’s complaint history as part of the investigation, and many of the cases come down to the word of the officer versus the accuser.

In the end, very few alleged victims prevail, the analysis found. Over four years ending in mid-December 2014, investigators “sustained” a little fewer than 800of the approximately 17,700 complaints, just over 4 percent. The sustained rate rose to about 11 percent if the thousands of people who didn’t sign the affidavit are excluded from the tally.

In the relatively few cases in which officers are found at fault, about 45 percent were given a reprimand or what’s called a “violation noted,” neither of which results in any docked time for the officer. Another 38 percent of the officers were suspended, but three-fourths of them were docked only one to five days off work. Almost 15 percent resigned before punishment could be imposed, the analysis found. And only a dozen officers were dismissed over complaints filed during the four-year period, according to the department records.

Police officials objected to the Tribune’s analysis, saying there are complicated factors at play. Officers routinely stack up complaints by working in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. They said the affidavit law protects them from false complaints. And the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates the most serious complaints, said it would be unfair to flag officers for past complaints for which they were cleared.

The Tribune analysis found that officers who piled up the most complaints routinely escaped discipline of any kind. Over the four years, the11 officers with the most complaints amassed a combined 253, in some cases for serious allegations of misconduct such as excessive force or illegal searches. Yet just one officer was punished — and received only a five-day suspension for neglecting his duties, the analysis found.

A few of the officers with the most complaints over the last four years also ranked high on similar lists from the 2000s.

According to the analysis, most officers found at fault were disciplined for more minor or technical offenses. For instance, officers were most often cited for “neglect of duty/conduct unbecoming” — about 150 of the nearly 800 sustained complaints. Other common sustained complaints included failure to provide adequate service, misuse of department equipment and other personnel violations.

The Tribune conducted its analysis using internal department data provided through an open-records request…

Discipline for Chicago police officers is a complicated process with three separate city agencies — IPRA; the Police Department, including its Bureau of Internal Affairs; and the Chicago Police Board — deciding punishment for misconduct.

Last year an independent study of the department’s disciplinary system found that officers had multiple opportunities to appeal disciplinary actions, often delaying decisions for months if not years. The city’s collective bargaining agreements with its police unions, particularly the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, have limited the ways in which misconduct can be investigated and disciplined, further complicating the process, according to the report by A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin. The most recent FOP contract, however, has lessened those roadblocks somewhat, they said.

IPRA said major strides have also been made in recent years by mediating more complaints, significantly lessening investigators’ caseloads and cutting down on the time investigations take. Officers typically get a break in their punishment for taking responsibility.

The Tribune analysis found that a majority of people who filed complaints against police did not follow through by signing the affidavit — a requirement of a state law amended in 2004 with backing by the FOP.As a result, fully 58 percent of the 17,700 complaints were tagged “no affidavit” and were never fully investigated by IPRA or Chicago police.

But some police accountability experts criticized the state law as counterproductive, saying the requirement likely discourages many people from complaining in the first place.

“Requiring to sign an affidavit acts as a deterrent for filing a complaint,” said Merrick Bobb, whose California-based Police Executive Resource Center is overseeing federal court-ordered reforms within the Seattle Police Department.”Complainants are going to think twice.”

“I think the more open the complaint process can be the better,” said Brian Buchner, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, who noted that filing a complaint against a police officer can be intimidating enough for people who think they were victims of misconduct.

Several veteran Chicago lawyers said there’s good reason not to sign the affidavits. Many of those who file complaints face criminal charges in connection with the same incident, the lawyers said, and it is an unwise strategy to let defendants give statements to police that could be used against them in the criminal case.

“It’s a tool for them to blow people off,” Torreya Hamilton, a lawyer who has filed numerous misconduct lawsuits against Chicago police, said of the affidavit requirement.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has talked to hundreds of residents in neighborhoods with a deeply rooted distrust of police while studying misconduct by officers for years, said he believes even greater numbers of people don’t bother with the initial step of filing a complaint because they have little faith that meaningful discipline will be imposed.

“I don’t know what the complainant gets out of it at the end of the day,” Futterman said. “… The complainant isn’t going to get, ‘Here’s a medal for what you did for exposing this corruption’ or anything like that. It’s a hassle. … It’s a kind of second thought, like, ‘Whoa, do I really want to sign an affidavit? Do I really want to go and follow up after this when there’s little chance that anything’s ever going to come of this?'”…

Police accountability experts faulted IPRA for failing to consider an officer’s history of complaints — including those not sustained — whenever a new complaint is investigated. That way IPRA fails to spot troublesome trends, they said.

“If you look at one complaint in an island within itself, you’re going to miss stuff,” Futterman said. “… That’s just bad Investigations 101. That’s not how you investigate cases.”

As a result, many of the complaints come down to the credibility of the officer and the alleged victim. Without any independent witnesses or video to back up the accuser’s account, that typically means IPRA and the department’s internal affairs side with the officer.

The Tribune found a number of cases in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing by IPRA but the alleged victims pursued lawsuits and won sizable damages at trial or in settlements.

For the full story, look for it in the Sunday Tribune or click here (paywall): http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-police-citizen-complaints-met-20150613-story.html#page=1

John Stamos arrested for DUI

stamosFrom The Hollywood Reporter:

John Stamos was arrested and issued a citation Friday night for driving under the influence, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

The Beverly Hills Police Department received multiple calls in regards to a reckless driver around 7:45 p.m. After responding to the calls, police pulled the driver over, who identified himself as John Stamos, Sergeant Max Subin said. Stamos was the sole individual in the vehicle.

Police summoned the fire department, who evaluated Stamos and transported him to a hospital where he was released to their care and issued a citation.

Stamos is set to appear Sept. 11, 2015 at the LAX Courthouse.

87 year old crashes through driving facility at end of road test

From driver crashes into license facility (story by Michelle Groenke):

An 87-year-old man who was taking his driving exam in order to renew his license crashed his vehicle Wednesday into a wall at the front of the Secretary of State’s driver’s license facility in Deerfield.

No one was injured, Deerfield police said.

“It happened around lunch time,” according to Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker. “There is some damage to the building, but they’ll have it repaired immediately.”

Druker said it appears the man, who was in the car with an examiner, stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake, striking a post and several signs. It appears the examiner helped steer the vehicle away from the building, according to Druker.

Will new car tech put an end to drunk driving?

I have been hearing for years about how automakers have been working on new technology to eliminate drunk driving.  In my opinion, they will need a federal regulation mandating this technology if they want to make this universal.  Otherwise, too many people will not want to pay more money for a feature that gives them less freedom.

From new technology could put an end to drunk driving:

A technological breakthrough that could virtually eliminate the drunken driving that kills 10,000 Americans each year was announced Thursday by federal officials, who said it could begin appearing in cars in five years.

The new equipment won’t require a driver to blow into a tube, like the interlock devices some states require after drunken-driving convictions. Instead, either a passive set of breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would immediately register the level of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Drivers who registered above the legal limit wouldn’t be able to start the car.

“The message today is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How soon can we do this?’ ” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It is a huge step forward.”

Eager to introduce an advance that would rival seat belts or air bags in saving lives, Rosekind said he would push to get the technology finalized, field tested and put into use before the five to eight years anticipated by researchers.

Though no cost-per-car estimate has been made, once the sensors go into general production it’s anticipated the cost will be equal to that of seat belts or air bags, about $150-$200 per vehicle.

Asked whether there would be a federal effort to mandate use of the devices in all new vehicles, Rosekind said he wasn’t sure that would be necessary.

“There’s not going to be a parent who isn’t going to want this in their child’s car,” he said. “There’s not going to be a business that’s not going to want this in their vehicles.”

NHTSA, safety advocates and automakers discussed whether the necessary technology was feasible for years. Researchers funded by auto manufacturers and federal safety regulators now have determined that it works.

They have developed passive sensors that detect how much a driver has had to drink, but are working on how best to package the sensors inside a vehicle. They have determined how to package touch-sensitive devices but still need to refine the technology to ensure accuracy…
The American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association, opposes the alcohol detection system.

“Today, NHTSA, MADD, and major auto makers presented what they claim will be a voluntary system … a description that directly contradicts their own past statements,” the organization said in a statement.

Though Rosekind said he didn’t think it would be necessary to make the system mandatory, he did not preclude that option. MADD is unambiguous in its belief that the system belongs in all vehicles.

Read the full story here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/new-technology-could-put-an-end-to-drunk-driving-federal-officials-say/2015/06/04/1cd31176-0a5b-11e5-9e39-0db921c47b93_story.html

DUI Roadblock tonight at Roosevelt and Washtenaw


The Chicago Police Department will be conducting a “roadside safety enforcement” beginning tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Roosevelt Avenue and Washtenaw.  It will run until Saturday at 3:00 a.m.

You can read more about it at dnainfo.com.