Lake Zurich police officer Vincent TeRonde and a colleague finished work on a Friday afternoon when they decided to kick off the weekend by watching horse racing at Arlington Park.
An internal investigation shows TeRonde and the other officer had some beer and food at the racetrack, then visited restaurants in Buffalo Grove and Long Grove before returning to Lake Zurich police headquarters, where they parted company.
The colleague said it was “strictly a beer night” and TeRonde appeared sober when he dropped him off about 10 p.m. Sept. 21, according to the Lake Zurich police documents obtained through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request.
TeRonde's evening took a turn about 25 minutes after leaving Lake Zurich and reaching the city of McHenry, where authorities accused him of causing an alcohol-related crash while possessing a loaded service weapon in violation of policy, documents show.
However, TeRonde's run-in with the law while off duty didn't cost him his Lake Zurich police career. Instead, records show, he received a “last chance employment agreement.”
As part of the deal for the job paying $82,672, TeRonde must pass all random tests for drug or alcohol use at any frequency requested by the village. The Marine Corps veteran, who initially was placed on administrative leave with pay after the wreck, can be fired for insubordination or any conduct violating the contract's terms.
He was suspended without pay for 30 days when the agreement became effective Jan. 11. The deal runs through Sept. 21, 2015.
“My conduct in driving the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, possession of my service weapon and my conduct at the McHenry city police department violated the village of Lake Zurich's Police Department's rules and regulations,” TeRonde stated in a portion of the document.
Lake Zurich Police Chief Patrick Finlon said TeRonde's agreement is a first for his department. While both sides agree the village could have sought TeRonde's firing, Finlon said the deal was a fair way to retain a 23-year employee who has provided good service to the police department and community.
“We conducted a very thorough investigation and held (TeRonde) accountable,” said Finlon, adding that Lake Zurich police should be held to a high standard.
TeRonde has been known as a longtime volunteer leader of the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign in the village.
Illinois Fraternal Order of Police union attorney John Roche Jr., who represented TeRonde before the village, didn't return messages seeking comment. TeRonde could not be reached for comment.
George Filenko, past president of the Lake County Chiefs of Police Association, said while TeRonde's last-chance deal is not common, it can be used if it's decided an officer's actions fall just short of deserving termination. While police may receive respect and trust, he said, with it comes an expectation of proper conduct whether on or off duty.
“You are held to a higher standard not only by the public, but also by your neighbors and your friends,” said Filenko, who is Round Lake Park's top cop and head of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force.
TeRonde, 47, initially was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, operation of an uninsured motor vehicle and improper lane usage. Documents show he ultimately struck a plea deal admitting to reckless driving and was ordered to pay a $2,295 fine and serve one year of supervision. He also must attend DUI school and participate in a victim-impact panel, under the terms of his sentence.
McHenry police said TeRonde was driving a Chevrolet pickup truck west on the 3600 block of West Elm Street about 10:25 p.m. Sept. 21 when he tried to change lanes and struck a Ford Mustang driven by a woman traveling in the same direction. He had the loaded .45-caliber service pistol inside a duffel bag on the truck's front seat in violation of Lake Zurich police policy, according to the village documents that included several blacked-out sections.
No one was injured in the crash, reports indicate.
Documents show a McHenry officer told Lake Zurich authorities he could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from TeRonde's “breath and person” from about 6 feet away and that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy.
McHenry authorities noticed a traffic vest with Lake Zurich police patches on it in the truck and asked TeRonde if he was an officer, the internal investigation showed. TeRonde responded that he's an active Lake Zurich officer.
Although he did not specifically request to be let off easy, documents state TeRonde said his “career was ruined” several times when the arresting officers were taking him to McHenry police headquarters. The internal probe says one of the McHenry cops interpreted TeRonde's comments as “a backhanded means of asking for a break.”
Lake Zurich documents show TeRonde, during the internal investigation, was asked if in the past he was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence and received a break from McHenry cops. “Not that I recall,” TeRonde was quoted as responding.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.