The Rolling Meadows mother and daughter killed Sunday near Peotone in a DUI crash are being remembered as a selfless and inseparable pair who were something of pioneers in the raising of an autistic boy 40 years ago.
That boy, now 42, was the only survivor in his vehicle of the crash that killed his mother, 72-year-old Margaret Simons, and her mother, 92-year-old Suzanne Thomson.
Simons' niece, Meg Thomson of Arlington Heights, remembered that her aunt, grandmother and autistic cousin, Ralphie, had celebrated their combined 200th birthday just two years ago with a cake bearing the image of Abraham Lincoln.
Ralphie, who is largely nonverbal because of his autism, remains hospitalized in Kankakee with a broken hip and pelvis. His mother and grandmother had just picked him up from his permanent home at the Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee to spend the week with them in Rolling Meadows, Meg Thomson said.
"They died doing what they loved," she said. "They loved picking up Ralph. I can't even imagine in his head the trauma of what he experienced Sunday night. ... I think he could only communicate with them."
Joseph E. Slattery, 25, of the 20000 block of Lakeview Way in Mokena, faces six counts of aggravated driving under the influence, one count of driving under the influence of drugs, improper lane use and driving without insurance.
Police said Slattery was driving south on Route 45 a half-mile south of Route 52 when his car crossed the centerline just before 8 p.m. Sunday and struck the northbound car driven by Simons.
Slattery's blood-alcohol level was above 0.08 percent at the time of the crash and he was also under the influence of an opiate, Will County state's attorney spokesman Chuck Pelkie said.
Slattery and his passengers, a 24-year-old woman and 1-year-old boy, were treated for minor injuries and released from Riverside Hospital in Kankakee.
Family and friends of Simons and Thomson, meanwhile, are preparing for their visitation Thursday and funeral services Friday morning at Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights.
Simons became known to many in the special-needs community for driving a bus for Kirk School in Palatine, which serves special-needs students, Meg Thomson said.
Parents there, from the 1980s until three years ago, were encouraged by her love and enthusiasm for the children as well as the guidance she provided as the mother of a special-needs child herself.
"She'd pick up a 6-year-old child and tell the kid's parents that it was all going to be all right," Meg Thomson said.
Simons and her mother would occasionally dress up for the kids on holidays and for special events, showing up as clowns, animals, Santa and Mrs. Claus, or Raggedy Ann and Andy.
Aunt Marge and Grandma Thomson were always together and always working to help others, Meg Thomson said. They took no time to accept help or favors from others because they were always too busy giving, she said.
"They would spend money on people who had nothing," Meg said. "These two people, with everything going on in their lives, didn't have an angry bone in their bodies. They made everyone feel like a celebrity."
And even as the family and friends struggle with their own grief and anger, they're looking to memories of the loving mother and daughter for guidance.
"They forgave everyone throughout their lives," Meg said.
The two women felt especially blessed to find a place in the special needs community through their experiences with Ralphie.
Family members were amazed by the sharp-mindedness and poetic talent that Thomson continued to demonstrate so late in life.
"She wrote these poems ... I couldn't put into words what she could put into poetry," Meg said of her grandmother.
Ralphie will continue to live at the Shapiro Center, which he's called home for the past 20 years, Meg said.