A 27-year-old Aurora woman Wednesday was sentenced to seven years in prison for causing a May 2009 crash that killed a St. Charles couple and injured 12 others on a motorcycle ride.
Alia N. Bernard must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence, or about six years, after pleading guilty to aggravated DUI for the deaths of Wade and Denise Thomas.
"We feel a sense of relief that there was finally justice for Denise and Wade," said Bridget Wold, Denise Thomas' daughter-in-law. "It was a long struggle having to wait three years for it to finally come."
Authorities said Bernard wasn't drunk at the time of the crash, but tests showed the presence of cannabis in her bloodstream. Bernard said she got high two days earlier and was putting on sunglasses when she caused the crash.
In Illinois, if there is any amount of an illegal drug in a motorist's bloodstream, that person is automatically criminally responsible for a crash. The state does not have to prove the driver was impaired.
"Ms. Bernard, you did not intend to do harm, but you did do harm," said
Kane County Judge Allen Anderson before a sobbing Bernard was handcuffed and taken away.
Anderson also sentenced Bernard to two years of supervision upon her release, and she must pay $2,615 in court fines. She faced between six and 28 years in prison.
At about 8:25 a.m. May 23, 2009 south of Elburn, Bernard was southbound on Route 47 when she struck a Honda Civic driven by Ryan Anderson, who was stopped waiting for another car to turn left onto Smith Road. The impact pushed Anderson's car into the group of oncoming motorcyclists, who were headed north on Route 47 to Wisconsin.
"It was just boom and boom and boom, impact after impact like bombs going off against the side of my car," Anderson testified Wednesday. "I have flashbacks every day."
The crash paralyzed Jerome Bozonelos, 54, of Aurora, from the waist down. He was in a coma for two months and hospitalized for two years.
Kane County First Assistant State's Attorney Jody Gleason also noted that Bernard sent a text to her mom at 8:18 a.m. complaining she was feeling sick and another to her then-boyfriend at 8:23 a.m. saying she was "way too sick to drive."
Family members also told of their loss.
"Everything changed in an instant. Now when I want to pick up the phone and call my father with good news, I can't," said Amanda Thomas, 24, of Batavia. "My life will never be the same. I will never reach a 'new normal,' as some call it."
Bernard testified that sun reflecting off the passing motorcycles created a "strobe light" effect, she reached for sunglasses and rear-ended the Civic.
"I never, ever meant to hurt anyone. I am so sorry for your loss," she testified. "I have nightmares about it every single night, horrible nightmares. I picture it over and over and over again."