Unlicensed, uninsured drunk drivers who are arrested in the State of Illinois may face stricter penalties in the future thanks to a bill pending in Springfield, which had its origins in Riverside.
House Bill 1471, which sailed through the House Judiciary II Committee by a 16-0 vote, calls for anyone arrested for driving under the influence and without a valid license and insurance to be charged with a Class 4 felony, which comes with a penalty of 1-3 years in prison if found guilty.
All three criteria must be met to qualify for the felony charge. The person’s vehicle may also be subject to seizure and forfeiture, according to the proposed legislation.
The bill was born out of tragedy that struck the Riverside law enforcement community last summer. On Aug. 8, a drunk driver who was unlicensed and uninsured ran a red light and rammed a Chicago patrol car carrying Michael Gordon, who got his start as a police officer in 2000 in Riverside.
His father, Robert Gordon, was a 30-year veteran of the Riverside Police Department, who retired in March of 2003 after serving five years as the village’s assistant chief.
In 2002, Michael Gordon fulfilled a dream by signing on with the Chicago Police Department. He was on patrol on the West Side at Jackson and Sacramento when he was killed by 28-year-old Luis Valle, who also died in the crash.
“Driving 50 to 60 miles per hour and almost passed out, [Valle] might as well have taken a gun and shot him,” Robert Gordon said. “If this law gets one person to say, ‘Maybe I’ll call a taxi,’ then it’s well worth it.”
Shortly after Gordon’s death, Riverside Police Chief Eugene Karczewski and Assistant Chief Thomas Weitzel began the process to get the legislation going as members of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association’s legislative committee.
Gordon testified in front of that committee, using a large poster of his son to represent the loss his family has suffered at the hands of a drunk driver. It was a picture, ironically, that Gordon had taken of his son while attending the 2003 Riverside memorial service for fallen police officers.
“I can attest to the devastation this causes a family,” Gordon said.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville), made its way to the House Judiciary II Committee on Feb. 25, which is chaired by Rep. Robert Molaro (D-21st), whose district includes portions of Riverside and Brookfield.
Gordon again testified in front of that committee, which voted unanimously to refer the bill to the full house. Gordon is in the process of writing letters to state representatives and senators, lobbying for their support. He may have to appear before the house and, if it passes that body, the senate, as the process continues.
“I’m pretty sure it’ll pass,” Gordon said. “We’re not denying anyone any rights. It’s a privilege to drive in this state.”
According to Weitzel, drivers who are arrested for DUI in the village during any given year who meet all three criteria are not all that uncommon. Last year the village made approximately 120 total DUI arrests.
“It will increase [felony charges] to 20 or 30 more a year,” Weitzel said. “But it’s reserved for the worst offenders. In many cases [where drunk drivers injure or kill victims] the families don’t even have anyone to sue.
“We’re hoping this will reduce DUIs and encourage unlicensed drivers to be licensed and to get liability insurance.”