A woman who sparked a chain-reaction crash that killed a St. Charles couple and injured a dozen motorcyclists had her prison sentence reduced by a year today.
But the judge who trimmed Alia Bernard’s prison sentence from 7 years to 6 rejected her bid to withdraw her guilty plea for aggravated DUI.
Bernard, 28, had pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced in February for the 2009 accident near Batavia that killed Wade Thomas, 44, and his wife, Denise, 45.
Kane County Judge Allen Anderson, who originally sentenced Bernard, cut her sentence to 6 years following a hearing during which Bernard’s attorney, Michelle Moore, asked the judge in separate motions to allow her client to withdraw her guilty plea and to reduce the original sentence.
Moore asked the judge to resentence Bernard to probation, an option under the aggravated DUI statute.
Anderson said he reviewed his notes and could not say the case presented the “extraordinary circumstances” that the law says are required for probation.
But the judge said he found mitigating factors in his reconsideration, enough to reduce the sentence to the minimum 6-year term for aggravated DUI.
The Thomases were on one motorcycle in a line of cyclists headed north on Illinois Route 47 on May 23, 2009, as part of a Memorial Day weekend ride. Bernard, who was driving south, rear-ended a car that was stopped two cars behind another car, which was waiting for the bikers to pass in order to turn left.
When Bernard struck the last car in line, the force of the collision thrust the first waiting car into the path of the cyclists.
Wednesday’s hearing drew about two dozen friends and family members of the Thomases, including Jere Bozonelos of Aurora, who is confined to a wheelchair due to injuries he received in the accident.
“I don’t think it’s right,” he said of the reduced sentence.
Bernard, he said, will resume her normal life after serving her sentence, and he will permanently be bound to his wheelchair.
“This is my life from now on,” Bozonelos said.
Bernard was originally charged with reckless homicide, which carries a 2 to 5-year sentence. Prosecutors added the aggravated DUI charge following a 2011 court ruling, which affirmed the validity of the DUI charge in cases like the one involving Bernard, who was not driving impaired, but had marijuana residue in her system.
Bernard’s attorney said prosecutors erred when they added the DUI charge after the court ruling, more than a year after originally charging Bernard with reckless homicide. On that basis, Moore argued, Bernard should be allowed to withdraw her plea.
But Anderson, saying he did not agree with Moore’s interpretation, denied the motion.
Moore said she planned to appeal the decision.