A 27-year-old Aurora woman pleaded guilty Friday to causing a May 2009 crash near Elburn that killed a St. Charles couple and injured 12 others in a motorcycle ride.
Alia N. Bernard faces between six and 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated DUI in causing the deaths of Wade and Denise Thomas of St. Charles. If defense attorneys can show extraordinary circumstances, she could receive probation.
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Bernard will be sentenced Feb. 8, 2012, by Judge Allen Anderson, who accepted the plea.
Bernard's "cold plea," admitting guilt without an agreed upon sentence with prosecutors, came as a relief to those who were injured in the May 23, 2009 crash at Route 47 and Smith Road in Blackberry Township.
"It's a good day, a very good day for us," said Scott Luczynski, of Elburn, who was injured in the crash. "We've been looking for some closure."
Just before the crash, a Cadillac was stopped on southbound Route 47, the driver waiting for the group of motorcyclists to pass so she could make a left turn onto Smith. A Honda Civic, driven by Ryan Anderson of Elburn, was stopped behind the Cadillac. Bernard hit the Civic, pushing it into the oncoming motorcyclists, according to a Kane County Sheriff's report. The Thomases drove right into that car. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
"I'm happy that she finally admitted she did something wrong. It's nice to see her admit guilt. I'm looking forward to justice being served," said Anderson, who suffered a broken nose and herniated discs from the crash. He now serves on the board of directors of the Crash Coalition, an anti-distracted driving group.
Bernard was charged a year after the crash following toxicology tests that showed she had marijuana in her system at the time of the crash.
Under Illinois law, if a motorist has any amount of an illegal drug in their bloodstream and is involved in a crash, that person is automatically criminally responsible. The state does not have to prove the driver was impaired.
Defense attorney Bruce Brandwein unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of Illinois' law and he will ask Anderson for probation.
"She feels terrible. It was an unfortunate accident," Brandwein said. "Accidents happen and they're not always criminal acts. Unfortunately, this was a criminal act because of the small amount of marijuana in her system."
"I'm happy we're finally at the point where we're going to go to sentencing," Kane County First Assistant State's Attorney Jody Gleason said.
If Bernard is sent to prison, she must serve 85 percent of her sentence. She remains free on $5,000 bond.