High-speed crash deaths in suburbs mirror national increase
Last month's fatal Wheaton crash, in which Brian Thunderkick is accused of driving at 135 mph, is among several in the suburbs this year involving cases of extreme speeding. A DuPage County judge on Wednesday refused a motion by prosecutors to increase bail for Thunderkick, 62, of Warrenville.
Here are some other instances:
• The deadliest crash occurred in Des Plaines on Feb. 16, when the driver of a Mercedes-Benz reached speeds of 135 mph on Northwest Highway. He crashed into a Chevy Impala, killing himself and three members of an Arlington Heights family on their way to a soccer game at a nearby YMCA.
• In March, a 21-year-old Rolling Meadows man was driving 93 mph in a 25 mph zone when he lost control of his car and struck a tree in Barrington Hills, killing his passenger, an 18-year-old Barrington High School student, authorities said.
• A 63-year-old Downers Grove man was exceeding 100 mph on Roosevelt Road west of York Street in Elmhurst, police said, when his car collided with another vehicle on Aug. 10, killing the other driver, a 69-year-old Lombard man.
These may be exceptional cases, but the fact is we are traveling faster -- and causing more speed-related crashes.
According to figures released late last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,111 people nationwide died last year in speeding-related crashes -- a 4 percent increase from 2015. That was part of an overall trend in which 37,461 lives were lost on U.S. roads last year, an increase of 5.6 percent.
The Itasca-based National Safety Council, which has run defensive driving courses since 1964, recommends drivers reduce their need to speed by taking such obvious steps as leaving early for their destinations and checking traffic patterns.
Drivers who are confronted by a high-speed car and feel in danger should pull over to the side of the road, take down the driver's license plate and report it to police.
Unfortunately, says Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner, officers have few ways of stopping speeders without putting more drivers in danger -- other than telling others to be on the lookout for the vehicle.
"It's sad to say there's really not a lot of actions police departments can take to mitigate those things," he said. "You can only hope and pray that they're not going to hurt anyone when they're speeding away."
Several decades ago, police departments started implementing policies directing officers to determine whether risks outweigh the purpose of catching the speeder, he said.
Kushner said drivers who see extreme speeders should immediately call 911 with as much description about the vehicle as possible.
"Unfortunately, we can't fix stupid," Kushner said. "We can only give them a court date when we catch them."
The traffic safety administration's figures on speeding-related deaths are among several troubling statistics: It also noted that pedestrian fatalities last year climbed 9 percent nationwide to 5,987, the highest total since 1990. Meanwhile, motorcyclist deaths were at 5,286, the largest number since 2008 and a 5.1 percent increase.