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Patricia’s Law ensures legal accountability in traffic fatalities

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to find a hole in state statutes, and Gov. Pat Quinn’s signing of legislation known as Patricia’s Law has helped to repair one.

Patricia McNamara, 50, of Rockford, was killed in a traffic accident in October 2011 when a distracted driver ran a stop sign near Marengo.

Driver Kenneth Englert, 55, of Rochelle, was ticketed for failure to obey a stop sign. Englert told police he had been distracted by a cellphone call just before the crash.

So, what is the penalty for distracted driving that takes another person’s life?

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt assessed Englert a $551 fine plus court costs and sentenced him to 120 days of court supervision. The offense won’t even show up on Englert’s driving record, because a successful court supervision wipes the offender’s record clean.

That wasn’t Englert’s first driving offense. He’d had prior speeding convictions. What Patricia’s Law will do is take away the option of giving court supervision to an individual ticketed in a fatal crash.

It doesn’t make sense that anyone could be at fault in a fatal crash and not have any mention of it on his driving record, particularly if it was not the person’s first offense.

The legislation had the support of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who agreed that such offenses should stay on a driver’s record.

Legislators sometimes can be too meddlesome when it comes to mandatory sentencing. But we’re not talking about a mandatory prison or jail term here – just a conviction and an assurance that court supervision isn’t an option for judges in such cases.

Drivers make mistakes, and accidents are accidents, although many can be prevented. But when a crash takes the life of another individual, it’s not in the best interest of Illinois residents to let the court record of that tragedy vanish.

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