Woman resentenced to probation for 2009 crash that killed St. Charles couple

  • Alia Bernard

    Alia Bernard

 
 
Updated 3/9/2016 3:33 PM

A woman serving a seven-year prison term for 2009 crash that killed a St. Charles couple while she had marijuana in her system but was not impaired was resentenced to probation Wednesday.

A Kane County judge said the THC in the body of Alia Bernard, 31, of Aurora, did not contribute criminally to the deaths of Wade and Denise Thomas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The criminal act, which is the cannabis in the system, played no role in this action," Kane County Judge David Kliment said. "The facts of this case are unique and for me, rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances."

In Illinois, a motorist can be held criminally responsible in a severe or fatal crash if they have any amount of an illegal drug is in their system.

Prosecutors only need to prove in court the presence of the drug, not any impairment.

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said it was obvious Kliment put a lot of thought into his ruling. McMahon noted Kliment's decision to resentence Bernard did not go to her guilt or innocence and his office would continue to review aggravated DUI/zero tolerance incidents on a case-by-case basis.

"We argued for what we thought was an appropriate sentence," McMahon said. "The law is the same today as it was then."

Bernard's vehicle rear ended a car that was stopped and waiting to turn at Route 47 and Smith Road near Elburn in May 2009.

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The impact pushed the car into a column of motorcyclists, triggering a pileup that killed the Thomases and injured 12 others, including paralyzing a man from the waist down.

Bernard faced six to 28 years in prison for pleading guilty to aggravated DUI, but judges are allowed to give probation in a case of "extraordinary circumstances."

At her sentencing, Bernard testified she smoked pot two days before the crash, and her defense attorney at the time argued that "extraordinary circumstances" did exist in that police and prosecutors agreed she was not impaired.

Now-retired Judge Allen Anderson disagreed and issued a seven-year prison term in early 2012; Kliment's resentencing Wednesday means Bernard, who had no criminal record before the crash, was to be released Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bernard's current defense attorney, Donald Ramsell, said he was confident his client would satisfy the terms of her probation, which also include 400 hours of community service and random drug and alcohol tests.

"It was a gutsy decision, but the right call. This is how justice is supposed to work," Ramsell said. "It's a tragedy for everybody. There is no happy ending, but at least there's some relief. Maybe politicians will stop running for re-election and sit down and right this wrong. It makes the top five list of the worst and most draconian laws still on the books."

The General Assembly last year passed a bill that would have set a THC impairment threshold for drivers and required prosecutors to prove impairment, but Gov. Rauner vetoed it, saying the proposed threshold was excessive.

Bernard had about a year and a half left to serve on her sentence, of which she was required to serve 85 percent.

Vivian Thomas, whose son was killed in the crash, said she had no choice but to "go on."

"We just have to accept it for what it is," she said. "I still lost my son."

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