DIXON – A Dixon woman was found guilty Tuesday afternoon of two traffic offenses in the April 5 head-on collision that killed a Sterling man.
Lee County Judge Charles T. Beckman found Janice Ringler, 55, guilty of improper lane usage and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident in a bench trial that lasted about an hour and a half.
She was assessed about $3,300 in fines and fees, which she paid immediately after sentencing.
Ringler was eastbound on U.S. Route 30, about 3 miles east of Rock Falls, on a railroad overpass near the old National Manufacturing plant, when her SUV crossed into the westbound lane around 3:15 p.m. and hit a pickup driven by Robert E. Stern Jr., 39.
He died at CGH Medical Center.
She was taken to CGH then transferred to OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, where she was hospitalized about 3 weeks.
Lee County Sheriff Cpl. Jared Yater, the accident recontructionist who investigated the crash, testified that the road was wet that day, and there was some rain mixed with snow, but the pavement was not icy.
According to the SUV’s data recorder, which recorded about 2 and a half seconds of information before the crash, Ringler was traveling at 51 mph and did not brake or slow down before impact, Yater said.
In a phone interview with Yater on June 26, Ringler did not deny being in the wrong lane, and said she had no history of fainting or blacking out. She did, at one point, suggest hydroplaning may have caused the accident, and a family member said there may have been a problem with the SUV’s tie rod, which is part of the steering mechanism, he testified.
In the end, Ringler’s attorney, Paul Whitcombe of Dixon, declined to make any opening remarks or call any witnesses and did not object to any testimony or exhibits proffered by Assistant State’s Attorney Will Fawkes.
After both sides rested, Whitcombe did argue, briefly and unsuccessfully, that the merger doctrine should apply: By being in the wrong lane, Ringler could not avoid the accident, she should therefore not be charged twice for the same crime and the two charges should be merged into one.
Among others, Stern, a Rock Falls High School graduate who worked for Allied-Locke Industries in Amboy, is survived by his wife, Cynthia, his daughter, Michelle Stern; his son, Austin Handel; his mother, Kathy Stern of Rock Falls, and sisters, April Knowles and Mary Dixon, both of Sterling.