Kane County prosecutor: Woman wasn't under influence of marijuana in fatal crash

  • Chemise Wardlow

    Chemise Wardlow

 
 
Updated 7/15/2015 3:52 PM

Kane County prosecutors have reduced charges against a woman who was facing up to 14 years in prison because she struck and killed a homeless man in Aurora in early 2014 when she had marijuana metabolites in her system.

Chemise Wardlow, 40, of Montgomery, pleaded guilty this week to misdemeanor DUI. She had been facing a felony charge of aggravated DUI and a misdemeanor DUI when prosecutors dismissed the most severe charge.

 

With her guilty plea, Wardlow agreed to 18 months probation and 100 hours of community service and paid nearly $5,200, including $2,372 for the funeral costs for Donald L. Early, 54.

State lawmakers are working to establish a THC standard for driving under the influence of marijuana in Illinois, but State's Attorney Joe McMahon said the decision was not indicative of a new policy.

"This is not reflective of a blanket policy going forward," he said. "We look at cases individually."

Defense attorney Richard Irvin said he was prepared to go to trial and call expert witnesses to testify that Wardlow was not impaired in the Feb. 2, 2013, crash on South Broadway Avenue but decided this was the best way for Wardlow to avoid prison and a felony conviction for aggravated DUI.

"This woman is a nurse. She was driving on the street, not impaired, just with a minute amount of cannabis in her system," Irvin said, noting Wardlow used marijuana around New Year's Eve. "I thought this was a good way to meet in the middle, to protect my client from prison."

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Current Illinois law has a zero-tolerance approach to DUI-marijuana in which people who have any amount of THC or marijuana metabolites in their systems are automatically criminally responsible and prosecutors don't have to prove impairment in court.

The General Assembly has passed legislation that would establish a threshold of 25 nanogram of active THC for a motorist to be considered impaired.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has until mid-August to sign the bill; some safety proponents say the proposed threshold is excessive compared to the 5-nanogram standard in Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

Marijuana advocates say Illinois law is draconian as THC and its metabolites can stay in a person's body for weeks, even a month.

McMahon said Wardlow's blood tested negative for active THC and she had only metabolites in her body. McMahon said his office looked at other factors in the case, such as an absence of erratic driving by Wardlow, her lack of a criminal record, and the fact that Early was walking in the middle of the street at 4 a.m. while under the influence of cocaine and has blood-alcohol level of .192 percent.

McMahon said the legislation was one of many factors in the decision.

"There was no evidence whatsoever of impaired driving," McMahon said. "Her THC levels were zero. The metabolite was positive. A metabolite is not what impairs someone's ability to drive."

McMahon said he believes the resolution of Wardlow's case was a "fair outcome" and his office will continue to look at each case individually, considering factors such as erratic or distracted driving; the conduct of the victim; and evidence of impairment.

"This is a just outcome for the defendant and people of this county," McMahon said.

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