Illinois Woman Pleads Guilty After Fatal DUI Accident

By Mike

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.



Former Cop Pleads Not Guilty in Felony DUI Death Trial

By Mike

This week, a Florida police officer pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter after being convicted in the wake of an accident that killed a young mother.

According to the Miami Herald, 24-year-old Peter Munoz did not appear in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court for his arraignment. Rather, his DUI attorney entered a plea of not guilty for him, which is allowed under Florida law.

Sources indicate that Munoz, who had been a police officer in Coral Springs for five months before the accident, was speeding through an intersection late one night this July when he struck the car of Jennifer Gutierrez, a paralegal who was traveling home from her boyfriend’s house.

The Miami Herald reports that Munoz’s Volkswagen struck the driver’s side of Gutierrez’s BMW with such force that the victim was impaled into the driver’s side door. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they had to cut the car into several pieces in order to remove Gutierrez.

Toxicology reports taken after the accident showed that Gutierrez had not been drinking, but Munoz did not perform as well on his blood alcohol test.

A police affidavit taken shortly after the accident shows that Munoz had a blood alcohol content of .229 one hour after the crash, which is almost three times more than the legal limit of .008.

Police reports from that night also indicate that Munoz did not attempt to take any evasive action to miss the BMW; instead, he simply plowed right through it.

After the accident, Munoz was taken to a local hospital, and later released home before being arrested a few weeks later on charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.

Understandably, the family of the victim was upset that Munoz was not immediately taken into custody, and has alleged that Munoz received special treatment from his colleagues in the Coral Springs police force.

The Coral Springs police department, however, promptly fired Munoz when he was arrested in late September. The official termination notice, though, does not explicitly mention the car crash.

Munoz likely faces a lengthy court battle, particularly in light of his not guilty plea. Sources indicate that the arrestee’s attorney believe that the victim may have been on her cell phone at the time of the accident, which may have caused her to drive recklessly.

In her defense, Gutierrez’s family claims these allegations are untrue, and that Munoz is solely responsible for the accident.

In the meantime, the family of Jennifer Gutierrez will mourn the loss of a promising young woman, who was apparently studying for her final exams at a local college on the night of the accident.

Gutierrez is survived by her 4-year-old daughter, who was not in her car at the time of the accident.