After cyclist's death, bill to tighten penalties for crosswalk scofflaws advances
State lawmakers heard compelling testimony from a Mount Prospect widower Thursday before advancing legislation to sharpen penalties for drivers who do not yield at a crosswalk with a flashing beacon.
Eric Jakubowski's wife, cyclist Joni Beaudry, died June 9, 2016, after being struck by an SUV at a crosswalk with a rectangular rapid-flashing beacon at a busy Mount Prospect street.
The driver paid $364 in fines and court costs.
"We're trying to bring back some pragmatic justice. We all know this is a travesty," Jakubowski told members of the House Transportation Committee.
Beaudry, 55, left behind five college-age and teenage children, including two with special needs.
State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, sponsored the bill after Beaudry's death. He witnessed a near-miss at the crossing at Central Road and Melas Park and thinks the flashing beacons are ineffective to the point of being dangerous because they confuse drivers.
"It does not sufficiently alert traffic ... and I don't think the flashing lights are sufficiently noticeable," Harris said in 2016.
The proposal would mandate a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $1,500 or jail time of up to 30 days for a driver who fails to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk with an activated rectangular rapid-flashing beacon.
If a pedestrian is killed or seriously injured, the offense would become a felony with a penalty of three to seven years in prison.
In Beaudry's case, Mount Prospect police cited Hanna Burzynska, 56, of Elk Grove Village with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. That's insufficient, Harris thinks.
Mount Prospect and the Illinois Department of Transportation collaborated to install the flashing beacon in hopes of improving safety at the 35 mph, four-lane street that sees about 21,000 to 23,000 vehicles a day.
But others argue the device gives pedestrians and cyclists a false sense of security in a state where drivers are often unaware of the Illinois law requiring vehicles to stop for people at any crosswalk.
"Joni did everything right," Jakubowski testified. "She chose to cross at this crossing because it was supposed to be safe. (The driver) walked away. ... We never heard from her before or after."
He cited a case in Michigan where a driver involved in a similar offense received a prison sentence of three to 15 years. Committee members voted 9-0 in favor, although state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Evers, a Chicago Democrat, raised concerns about the impact of possible imprisonment on young people.
Harris said the measure would apply only to crosswalks with rectangular rapid-flashing beacons.
The measure will move on to the Illinois House for a vote.