First reported 10/15/2009 5:59 p.m.
Family and friends of an Austin woman killed last month after her motorcycle slammed into a van making an illegal U-turn are expressing outrage after that driver last week was fined $285 and given court supervision.
The victim’s mother, Maxine Kelley, who is here from her home in Florida to care for two orphaned grandchildren, was among more than 20 people at the Maybrook courthouse before a hearing Wednesday afternoon. Kelley, mother of Jamilla Simms, the motorcyclist who died in the crash, said she was at the hearing to see that the woman driving the van was “held accountable.”
Oak Park police say Lolita Brown, 40, of the 5500 block of W. Congress Parkway, Chicago, had just dropped off a passenger at the Austin Boulevard Blue Line el station around 11 a.m. Sept. 16. As Brown started to make a U-turn from the far right southbound lane, her van was struck by a motorcycle driven by Simms. Simms, 39, of the 5900 block of W. Washington, Chicago, was not wearing a helmet and suffered what were called “massive head injuries.” She was rushed to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where she was pronounced dead.
“They consider this a misdemeanor,” Kelley said of police and prosecutors. Asked what the family thought should have been charged, Kelley and others replied in unison: “reckless homicide.”
Extra bailiffs and deputy sheriffs guarded the courtroom door and stood by outside as the hearing started.
About two dozen people – including Kelley, Simms’ sister Akilah, Simms’ fiancé Anthony Berry, and members of Simms’ women’s motorcycle club – were present for Brown’s court appearance. Most were required to remain in the hallway outside the small courtroom, because of space limitations, although Kelley, Akilah, Berry and one of Simms’ children were eventually seated inside.
Standing without an attorney before Judge Mary Roberts, Brown, in blue jeans and a black leather jacket, accepted without comment an offer to plead guilty to the charges of improper standing on the roadway and improper U-turn on a hill. A ticket for no proof of insurance was tossed out when Brown showed the judge a valid insurance card.
Brown was ordered to pay $150 in fines, and $135 in court costs. Roberts gave her 60 days to pay the $285, and told Brown her driver’s license would be returned when payment was made. The judge also placed Brown on court supervision for four months.
Brown was then escorted out of the courtroom by two Cook County Sheriff’s deputies, and to her car.
An audible murmur escaped from the four Simms family members when Roberts announced the $285 in fines. As they left the courtroom, the complaints became more verbal. “Kill somebody, get a $50 fine,” one man said.
“I don’t understand it. They let her go for two hundred and eighty five dollars,” he continued. “They need to talk to the state’s attorney. That ain’t right.”
Oak Park’s police chief, Rick Tanksley, said Thursday that his department had thoroughly investigated the accident and conferred at length with the state’s attorney’s office.
Tanksley called the incident “a senseless accident” and emphatically criticized Brown’s behavior. “There’s no doubt the other driver exercised extremely poor judgment. Extremely poor judgment,” he said. “However, when we look at the law, (her) maneuver does not meet the requirements for charging a more serious offense.”
“We don’t take these things lightly,” he added. “If the state’s attorney’s office had found a way to bring more serious charges, we would have done so.”
State’s attorney spokesman Andy Conklin said Thursday that his office would have a formal comment on the case and Wednesday’s events as soon as possible.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Kelley, who has moved back to Chicago from Florida to live with her two orphaned grandchildren, expressed disbelief and frustration.
“She got off with a $285 fine for killing my daughter,” said Kelley. “(Prosecutors) didn’t even bring up the fact that my daughter was killed in the accident. I don’t understand the law. I really don’t.”
She said the issue is far from concluded.
“We’re going to file a wrongful death suit,” Kelley said. “We’re not going to give up.”
Thursday afternoon she and other family members continued to press their case on WGCI radio. In the meantime, she said, they are looking to find a lawyer to take their civil case.