Bryan Pece was set to return to work May 6 after being off for roughly six months as a result of injuries he suffered while on duty as a Carol Stream police sergeant.
But the night before his scheduled return, authorities say, Pece was drunk when his vehicle slammed into the rear of an SUV at a busy intersection in Hanover Park. Pece and both people in the SUV were injured in the crash.
Contact information ( * required )
And so the day after the accident -- the same day Pece was set to return to work -- he applied for disability leave, officials said. This time, it was non-duty related.
Now the five-member Carol Stream police pension fund board is charged with determining if his employer, the village of Carol Stream, should pay Pece if he's physically unable to return to work.
That process is taking place at the same time Pece is facing charges in DuPage County Circuit Court for driving under the influence. If convicted, he could be fired, but so far he hasn't faced any disciplinary action and remains on the village payroll.
The pension board formally received Pece's application this month and is now working to gather his medical records as part of its investigation into the disability claim, according to John Numrich, the board president.
Exactly what disability Pece is claiming hasn't been made public. It doesn't say on the application and it may not necessarily have to do with injuries sustained in the car crash. But Numrich said no matter what, the burden of proof is on Pece to show he is physically unable to perform his duties as a police officer.
The pension board also will schedule medical exams for Pece with three doctors of the board's choosing. Pece is allowed to have his own doctor examine him, and present any other evidence to help his case.
Using a walker to get around, Pece made his first court appearance Wednesday in the misdemeanor DUI case.
His defense attorney, Brian Telander, said the officer was "severely injured" in the crash, suffering a broken leg that required surgery and several broken ribs.
Pece also has been undergoing extensive alcohol-abuse treatment, which he sought the day after the accident, his attorney said.
"He's an outstanding police officer with a flawless record," Telander said. "It's certainly unfortunate that he finds himself in this situation."
Telander said a hearing on suspending the officer's driver's license was on hold while awaiting the official results of a blood test Pece was given after the crash.
The accident took place about 7 p.m. May 5 at the intersection of Army Trail and County Farm roads.
Since the accident, Pece has taken paid leave time he has accrued, Carol Stream Village Manager Joe Breinig said.
"I've heard nothing in terms of his return to work," Breinig said.
Officials said Pece's remaining paid leave time will expire in September.
No disciplinary action has been taken against Pece, though Chief Kevin Orr does have the authority to suspend or discharge sergeants.
The village covered the costs of Pece being off work as a result of injuries from the on-duty incident last November, as is required by law, Numrich said.
If Pece's non-duty disability application is approved by the board, he would be required to have a medical examination every year until age 50 to determine if he is physically able to return to work, Numrich said.
Pece is 43.
"We don't want to pay someone (for not working) if they can do the job," Numrich said.
Pece has spent more than 20 years on the Carol Stream police force, starting as a patrol officer who worked his way up to sergeant.
Theoretically, state pension law would allow him to retire now as a deferred pensioner since he's been on the force for more than 20 years. He wouldn't be able to draw from his pension until he turns 50.
His disability application is only the second one the pension board has received from a sworn officer in several years, said Numrich, a former Carol Stream police chief.
The board didn't have purview over Pece's duty-related disability claim because he did not exhaust all the paid leave time he had accumulated, Numrich said.
The board will hear testimony on Pece's disability claim during a public meeting at a date to be determined. The board doesn't have regular sessions, but meets on an as-needed basis.
"There is some urgency to it because the last I heard he had accumulated sick time, hourly time and vacation time, and that will come to end some time in the future," Numrich said. "We'd like to resolve it before he runs out of time -- one way or the other."
The board includes two active-duty officers selected by their peers through an election, two civilians appointed by Village President Frank Saverino, and one retiree.
Numrich was one of the first members of the board when it was established in 1972, and he's served since then except when he was chief from 1997 to 2002.
Should the board deny Pece's disability claim, he would have 30 days to file an appeal in circuit court.
Pece, of Carol Stream, remains free on a $1,000 bond. He has declined to comment.
If convicted of the DUI charge, Pece faces up to a year in county jail.
He is due in court again Sept. 25.