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Article posted: 2/27/2013 6:40 PM

Charges upgraded against driver who killed family in 1999 crash

By Charles Keeshan

McHenry County prosecutors upgraded charges Wednesday against a Mount Prospect man suspected of driving under the influence while on parole for killing four members of a Crystal Lake family while driving drunk in 1999.

Walter J. Depner, 61, now faces felony charges of aggravated driving under the influence and driving while license revoked stemming from his arrest Sunday near Lakemoor. If found guilty, he would face a mandatory prison sentence of at least two years, under state statute.

First Assistant McHenry County State's Attorney Norm Vinton described the decision to upgrade the charges against Depner from misdemeanors to felonies as "automatic."

"There was no way we were going to just let him get by with a misdemeanor DUI," Vinton said. "We're going to pursue this aggressively."

Depner was being held without bond Wednesday at the McHenry County jail, according to jail records. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning, at which time bond is expected to be set at $60,000, Vinton said.

McHenry County sheriff's police said Depner was arrested Sunday after he pulled his car into a driveway near his old neighborhood in Lakemoor, walked into the home and sat down on a couch.

Depner's speech was slurred and he appeared intoxicated, according to reports, which also noted damage to the car Depner was driving. He initially was charged with misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and driving with a revoked license, along with two traffic offenses.

Depner was transported first to a medical facility in Woodstock for evaluation and taken into custody again Wednesday following his release.

The arrest comes about 20 months after Depner was paroled after serving 12 years of a 14-year sentence for aggravated DUI and reckless homicide. His conviction stems from an August 1999 crash near McHenry that killed, Eva Burleson, 34, and her children, Daniel, 14, Tiffany, 11, and Dallis, 7. Tom Burleson, Eva's husband and the children's father, survived.

A jury found that Depner was drunk when he steered his minivan into oncoming traffic on Route 120 and collided head-on with the Burlesons' VW Microbus. A state toxicology expert testified Depner had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal threshold at the time of the crash.

Besides the new charges, state authorities could act to revoke the remainder of Depner's parole. He was scheduled to be released from parole in late June.

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