Julie Gorczynski was getting a ride after her shift at a suburban movie theater when a Mazda smashed into the passenger's side of her friend's Jeep, rolling the vehicle and killing the 17-year-old.
Orland Park police determined the Mazda was going at least 76 mph in a 40 mph zone, officials said. Behind the wheel was Lukasz Marszalek, a 21-year-old who still had his driving privileges despite a string of speeding violations. Courts repeatedly, and in some cases improperly, granted him a special probation, called court supervision, that kept his driving record clean enough to keep his license, a Tribune analysis shows.
The June 2011 crash has sparked new legislation intended to curb who can get court supervision, barring anyone who is caught speeding by more than 25 mph on a nonrural road, or 30 mph on a highway, from getting the special probation.
If passed, it will be the third law in six years to restrict who is allowed to get court supervision. A Tribune investigation shows those previous laws have had limited success, however. While judges in Cook and the collar counties have reduced by half the number of improper supervisions issued each year, they are still incorrectly granting thousands, at an average of eight a day.
The most popular sentence for traffic offenders, supervisions allow governments to collect fees for traffic violations and drivers to avoid traffic convictions that can lead to increased insurance rates and, in the extreme, license suspensions.
Calls for reform
There has been little disagreement that probation makes sense for first-time offenders, but the use of supervisions for serial speeders has long been controversial.
In 2004, a chronic speeder was blamed for a collision that killed the driver's girlfriend and a 15-year-old boy in another car. The driver had received seven tickets for speeding and three for crashes —yet he was granted supervisions that allowed him to keep his license before the fatal collision.
The crash spurred a law that limited the number of supervisions courts can give drivers to two in a 12-month period. The change, enacted in 2006, meant a driver found guilty of a third violation within 12 months must receive a conviction. A driver's license can be suspended with three moving violation convictions in a 12-month period, or two in a 24-month period if the driver is under 21.
Calls for an even tighter supervision law came after two Tribune investigations in 2010 found that not only was the 2006 law routinely being ignored by the courts, but that Chicago-area judges regularly gave supervisions to drivers caught going 100 mph or faster. It led to a 2011 law prohibiting supervision to anyone found guilty of speeding 40 mph or more over the limit, and vows by court officials to try to limit the breakdowns in enforcing the 2006 law.
Marszalek, the driver now facing misdemeanor aggravated speeding charges in the crash that killed Gorczynski, was able to benefit from the lax enforcement of court supervision laws, court records obtained and analyzed by the Tribune show.
Between October 2006 and August 2009, Marszalek had been cited six times, with four of those cases ending in supervisions. The cases were spread out enough that he didn't trip the two-a-year legal limit, with his last two supervisions granted in March and August of 2009.
Based on the state interpretation of the two-a-year limit, Marszalek should have been ineligible for another supervision until April 2010.
But on Aug. 7, 2009, the same day he appeared in DuPage County court for a speeding ticket and received his fourth supervision, Marszalek was cited with driving more than 100 mph in a 55 mph zone in Will County.
When Marszalek went to court a month later on the new ticket, he was given a plea bargain that reduced the charge and included yet another supervision, so long as he paid a $500 fine, went to traffic school and wrote a two-page essay on the extremes of speeding.
In explaining the decision to the Tribune on behalf of the judge who heard the case, Will County Chief Judge Gerald R. Kinney said in an email that traffic court is busy — seeing between 350 and 500 cases in an afternoon — and it's common for judges to rely on attorneys to tell them whether a defendant is ineligible for supervision.
"If the judge knew the defendant was ineligible for court supervision, he would not have ordered it," Kinney said.
Charles Pelkie, spokesman for the Will County state's attorney's office, said court records don't explain why Marszalek was given a supervision in this instance. He said a traffic court prosecutor might see 1,000 cases in a month and would rely on an office database to show a driver's previous supervisions. He speculated that the prosecutor was unaware of Marszalek's most recent supervision because it was given just one month before his Will County court date.
In Marszalek's essay, titled "Dangers of Speeding," he quotes Isaac Newton's famous principle of every action having an equal, opposite reaction: "It means if you do something wrong, someone will pay the price."
Marszalek, however, continued speeding and continued to avoid convictions, records show. He was cited by Palos Park police with speeding in September 2009 and again in June 2010 and given two more supervisions in Cook County's Bridgeview courthouse — despite still being over the limit of supervisions allowed in one year. That makes for a total of seven supervisions, three of which were improperly granted, records show.
The presiding judge at the Bridgeview courthouse released a statement saying he could not comment, citing ethical rules "that judges should abstain from public comment about matters that currently are or may come before the court." The cases were prosecuted by an attorney hired by Palos Park, the Cook County state's attorney's office said. The Palos Park village manager said the village's attorney would have had access to only Cook County court records, but he declined to elaborate.
Marszalek's attorney, Patrick J. Doherty, did not return phone calls seeking comment and Marszalek declined to comment when reached by phone, saying he did not want to interfere with his trial. Court records show Marszalek, whose address was listed in Lemont at the time of the accident, now lives in Indiana.
New law debated
Eight years after her own son was killed in the 2004 crash that spurred the two-a-year limit for supervisions, Dee Brant said she is frustrated by Marszalek's record.
"If we don't have consequences, people aren't going to learn a lesson," she said.
A Tribune review of new secretary of state data suggests that courts in Cook and the collar counties, while halving the number of improper supervisions, still improperly gave more than 2,000 last year to chronic speeders.
That continued problem angers Secretary of State Jesse White. Through a spokesman, he called it "a shame that the courts let a guy like this slip through the cracks." And he said he has asked a recently formed advisory committee on traffic safety to study ways to stem the breakdowns over supervisions.
The new legislation limiting supervisions has already gotten unanimous support in the state Senate.
"As we look at texting, as we look at cellphones, all the distractions that are out there, we forget that speed can be fatal," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forest. "It has to be a wake-up call for drivers that there's a big responsibility in getting behind that wheel, and speeding is something we take pretty seriously."
The secretary of state's office said it helped draft the legislation, and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police also supports it, said Orland Park police Chief Tim McCarthy, who serves as chairman of the group's legislative committee.
"We think the speeds that are outlined in the law are fairly egregious," he said. "That's going pretty fast."
Yet, not everyone agrees with the proposed law. Ava George Stewart, defense attorney and chair of the Illinois State Bar Association's Traffic Laws and Courts Section, said the proposal, dubbed "Julie's Law," is too harsh, especially for first-time offenders.
"Now we're at 25 over? That's not that fast," she said. "You're going to throw more people into the criminal justice system."
She said the laws already on the books are enough to hold speeders accountable for their actions.
"Whenever you try to create a law based entirely on a specific, one-time incident, you're doing it for the wrong reason," she said. "We tend to get bad laws made that way."
Pam and Rich Gorczynski said they know tougher laws won't bring back their daughter, who had just graduated from Lincoln-Way North High School and was a week shy of her 18th birthday when she died. But the Frankfort couple hope legislation can prevent other families from experiencing the same loss.
"Whatever it takes to save more lives," Rich Gorczynski said while attending a status hearing for Marszalek in March. "Without as many supervisions … maybe we wouldn't be here."
If the law does pass, Brant — the advocate of a previous limit — hopes the courts will enforce it.
"Why do people work on laws only to find out the judge will pick and choose which ones they implement and which ones they don't?" she said. "The concern that I have is the laws get passed, but they're not necessarily being implemented."
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