Just over a year ago, former Riverside police officer Michael Gordon was killed by a drunk driver while on duty as a Chicago patrolman. In the wake of his death and after intense lobbying by his father along with Chicago and Riverside police, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law a bill that provides for stiffer penalties against any unlicensed and uninsured motorists charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
House Bill 1471, signed by the governor on July 26, calls for anyone charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to be charged with a Class 4 felony if they are driving on a suspended or revoked license and are driving an uninsured motor vehicle. Anyone convicted of a Class 4 felony faces up to three years in prison.
In addition, under the new law offenders risk having their vehicles being seized by police. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2006.
“People are still going to drive [drunk],” said Michael Gordon’s father, Robert, a 30-year veteran of the Riverside Police Department, who retired as assistant chief in 2003.
“But it gives the law a little more bite.”
Michael Gordon, who served as a police officer in Riverside from 2000 to 2002, was on patrol as a Chicago patrolman on Aug. 8 when a car driven by 28-year-old Luis Valle ran a red light at Jackson and Sacramento on Chicago’s West Side and slammed into Gordon’s squad car. Gordon’s partner was injured in the incident.
Valle was also killed in the crash. Tests revealed that Valle’s blood-alcohol level was .117, well over the legal limit of .08. Valle did not possess a driver’s license and his vehicle was not insured.
Riverside Police Chief Eugene Karczewski hailed the law, saying it targets the worst DUI offenders. He estimated that of the village’s 121 DUI arrests in 2004 that 15 to 20 percent of them would have qualified for felony status under the new law.
“So many people have a disregard for the law,” Karczewski said. “Three strikes and you’re out is the way we looked at it.”
Previously, in order for an offender to be nailed with a felony DUI, that person would either have to seriously injure or kill someone or be convicted of multiple DUIs.
“There were 17,000 people killed last year by drunk drivers,” Karczewski said. “How many people and families have been devastated by that? We’re saying, let’s take them off the road prior to that happening. The ability to seize the vehicle is part of that. It’s more of a preventative thing rather than doing it after the fact.”
During Michael Gordon’s career with the Riverside police, he received numerous awards, unit citation awards and letters of commendation. He was also recognized three times as Officer of the Month. In his younger years, Gordon was one of the founding members of the Riverside Police Explorer Post #390. Before joining the law enforcement ranks, Gordon served in Korea and Bosnia as a military police officer, assigned to the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne unit.
It was shortly after Michael Gordon’s death that Karczewski and Robert Gordon began lobbying state legislators to support tougher penalties for unlicensed, uninsured motorists charged with driving under the influence.
Gordon won the support of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association and testified before both the Illinois House and Senate Judiciary committees. He also wrote numerous letters to state legislators asking for their support.
“It’s not going to bring Mike back, but at least he didn’t die in vain,” Robert Gordon said. “At least he has a legacy.”