After a long legal battle, which included the resolution of a dispute about the validity of the charges at the Illinois Supreme Court, a woman finally pleaded guilty this week to an aggravated DUI after causing a multiple-car accident that killed two motorcycle drivers.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 27-year-old Alia Bernard recently pleaded guilty to the charge of aggravated felony DUI after she admitted to having marijuana in her system when the fatal crash occurred.
Sources indicate that the fatal accident occurred in May 2009, when Bernard apparently bent over to grab her sunglasses and lost control of her vehicle.
When Bernard, a resident of Aurora, Illinois, was reaching for her glasses, she rear-ended a stopped car on an Illinois state highway at a very high speed. The collision sent the stopped car flying forward, and it then struck another car that was waiting to take a left turn.
When this second collision sent the turning car further into the intersection, the car created an obstacle for two motorcyclists who were lawfully traveling through a green light. The force of the collision killed both motorcyclists.
In all, the accident that was started by Bernard’s negligent driving involved nine different vehicles, injured 12 people, and resulted in the death of Wade and Denise Thomas, who were 44 and 45 years old, respectively.
Originally, prosecutors alleged that Bernard was texting when the accident occurred, although she and her DUI lawyer offered a different story.
According to Bernard’s lawyer, “[i]t was sunny and the sun was bouncing off the chrome of the motorcycles and she went to get her sunglasses and when she looked up, there was a car in the road.”
In addition, even though tests showed that Bernard tested positive for marijuana, she claims that she had not smoked pot for three or four days before the accident and was completely sober when the collision occurred.
Despite this claim, though, prosecutors raised her charges from the lesser crime of reckless homicide when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that any amount of an illegal substance in a driver’s system during a fatal accident warrants the charge of aggravated DUI.
This news has upset some legal experts in Illinois, as it suggests that, for example, drivers who smoked marijuana several days before getting into even a minor accident could still be liable for an aggravated DUI charge.
In response, supporters of the decision say that a zero-tolerance policy will deter drivers from getting behind the wheel if they have a shred of doubt about their sobriety.
Regardless of the validity of the decision, Bernard has admitted responsibility and pleaded guilty to the charges. Sources indicate that Bernard, who has no past criminal record, could face six to 28 years in prison.