Expressway shootings are down, but road rage is on the rise

The number of shootings along Chicago-area expressways continues to fall this year after a record 310 in 2021, but within that nugget of good news is a worrying trend.

Shooting victims are increasingly reporting that road rage is the reason behind the gunfire, Illinois State Police say.

Road rage was reported in about 40% of the 189 expressway shootings in 2022, according to the state police. That was a 12% increase over 2021.

So far this year, road rage has been linked to nine of the 31 reporting shootings. And that doesn't include crashes and physical fights associated with aggressive and angry drivers, state police note.

“Unfortunately, there hasn't been one specific thing to point to for road rage issues,” Trooper Joshua Koronado told us Thursday.

In an effort to understand and ultimately combat the trend, state police are coordinating with AAA to collect data on road rage.

“Anti-road rage messaging is being used in our driver's education presentations across the state,” Koronado added. “Also, anti-road rage information is being shared on all of our social media platforms.”

It's all the rage

While road rage can lead to life-altering consequences, a study by the AAA Foundation found that drivers who became violent said their reasons were often trivial, such as another driver not letting them pass or following too closely.

According to the study, almost 80% of drivers copped to some aggressive behavior behind the wheel, from purposefully tailgating (51%) and yelling at other drivers (47%) to getting out of a vehicle to confront someone (4%) and intentionally bumping another vehicle (3%).

How can you avoid falling victim to a rage-aholic behind the wheel? State police have some advice, including:

• If you are in the left lane and someone wants to pass, move over and allow it.

• When merging, make sure you have plenty of room and use your turn signal.

• If someone cuts you off, slow down and give the other driver room to merge into your lane.

• If a speeding driver is tailgating you, safely change lanes when able.

• Don't make gestures that might anger the other driver. Instead, create distance and avoid confrontation.

• If another driver is acting angry, don't make eye contact.

• Call the police if you believe a driver is following you or harassing you.

Saved, then sued

A DuPage County sheriff's sergeant is suing a woman he helped rescue two years ago after her car plunged into a Wheaton pond.

Sgt. Peter Klockars was one of two deputies who removed the woman from the partially submerged car — despite her resistance — on March 20, 2021, according to a Commendation of Excellence he and Sgt. Tara Campbell received.

But Klockars alleges the rescue — and the woman's efforts to prevent it — left him injured. The lawsuit, filed last week, states that at 10:50 a.m. that day, the woman drove a Toyota Camry recklessly, ultimately going into the pond at Herrick Park.

When Klockars entered the vehicle to pull her out, the suit alleges, the woman pulled away, then pushed and hit the sergeant.

The rescue effort caused Klockars to suffer a herniated disc in his back, according to his lawyer, Steven Berman. Nearly two years later, he still experiences pain that extends to his legs, has needed anti-inflammatory injections and physical therapy, and surgery has been recommended, Berman said.

Klockars is still on full-time active duty, according to the sheriff's office.

While one might argue a person should not be held liable for injuries another suffers during rescue attempts made against his or her will, Berman said his client deserves compensation for pain and disability. Neither is covered by workers' compensation, he said.

“Her conduct, her actions, were a cause of the injury,” Berman said.

DuPage court records show the woman was found guilty of reckless driving and ordered to three months of court supervision. We're not naming her because she has a history of mental illness.

In memoriam

Fifty-five years. That's how long Van R. Richards Jr. of St. Charles spent ensuring criminal defendants got a fair shake in court.

Richards, who retired in 2015, died March 11 at the age of 92. He's being remembered by colleagues as a tireless advocate for his clients and for fairness in the criminal justice system.

“He was the best in the business,” said Aurora-based defense attorney Gary Johnson, who faced Richards as an opponent when Johnson was a prosecutor.

Richards was also a mentor, including for Johnson when he was defending a man accused in the infamous Jeanine Nicarico murder case.

“Whenever there was something unfair going on with regards to the prosecution of a case, it would set him (Richards) off,” Johnson said.

After serving as a Marine in the Korean War, Richards returned to college, then attended the University of Chicago Law School.

He was admitted to the bar in 1960 and spent the next 55 years fighting for justice.

One of those fights, late in his career, involved getting Kane County's drug rehabilitation court program out of the hands of the judge who started it.

Richards was one of several attorneys who complained to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board in 2003 that the judge was abusing his power and violating defendants' rights.

The drug court was a nationally acclaimed program in which those battling substance abuse disorders would plead guilty and agree to seek treatment.

If they complete the program successfully, their convictions are vacated and the charges dismissed.

Richards and other parties claimed the judge running the program systematically violated defendants' rights, including by requiring them to meet with him without their attorneys or court reporters present.

The Judicial Inquiry Board also alleged the judge sought retribution against people who disagreed with him.

One of those involved in the case, attorney Bruce Steinberg, remembers the vitriol directed at them. Richards calmed him down, saying, “‘Hang tight. Arguing cases in the press doesn't win cases,'” Steinberg recalled.

The much-younger Steinberg was part of the “cafeteria lawyers,” a morning coffee klatsch over which Richards unofficially presided.

“Van was the ally that other attorneys wanted when they needed help,” either with a case or, in some situations, defending themselves, Steinberg said.

“If you stood up, if you did right, Van was your friend.”

Johnson added, “He always had a cause he was fighting for.”

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Van R. Richards Jr. Courtesy of Malone Funeral Home
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