by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—The woman driving the car responsible for a fatal, multi-vehicle crash at Route 47 and Smith Road in Elburn was sentenced on Feb. 8 to seven years in prison.
Alia Bernard of Aurora on May 23, 2009, slammed into three southbound vehicles stopped behind a car turning onto Smith Road from Route 47. The collision created a chain reaction that pushed the third car into the path of on-coming motorcycles, killing Wade Thomas, 44, and his wife Denise, 45, of St. Charles. Five other people were injured in the crash.
Bernard, 27, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated DUI on Dec. 9, 2011. She was indicted for aggravated DUI after the crash because a small amount of marijuana was found in her system. Prosecutors said that while she was not high at the time of the crash, evidence of marijuana in her system was deemed a proximate cause to the crash.
According to Illinois law, Bernard must serve at least 85 percent of the seven-year sentence.
“I think the sentence was fair. It was definitely adequate,” crash victim Ryan Anderson said. “Finally, justice was served, especially for the family. They don’t get a chance to have any more holidays together. They didn’t have a chance to say good-bye.”
Anderson, whose car was hit by Bernard’s and thrown into the path of the motorcycles, sustained a fractured nose, cracked orbital socket and herniated disks in his lower back. He also suffers from flashbacks almost daily.
“I was driving the car she hit. It was ‘boom- boom-boom.’ It was like bombs going off at the side of my car,” Anderson said. “I’ll never drive a small car again.”
After the crash, Anderson reached out for people to talk to. He found comfort with the other victims, as well as victims of a similar crash in Lake Zurich, Ill., dubbed the “Nail polish crash” in which a woman painting her nails slammed into the cars ahead of her.
“I frequently talk to the other victims, each and every one of them. I’ve been there as much as I can for the families. I know them all very, very well,” Anderson said.
Court records indicate that Bernard sent a text at 8:23 a.m., just seconds before the crash. She texted that she was “too sick to drive.” In her testimony, Bernard claimed to have been reaching for her sunglasses to block the glare, a statement Anderson doesn’t find credible. He said that as he sat in the same ambulance with her, she seemed unapologetic and as if she didn’t understand what she had just done.
In trying to make sense of the tragic events, Anderson has become involved with Crash Coalition, an organization that makes drivers aware of the dangers of distracted driving. Anderson serves on the board of directors and speaks about the dangers of texting while driving.
“I would definitely preach to the public about distracted driving. Put the cell phone down. Be conscientious of your surroundings. Going 55 mph, a car goes the length of a football field in a short time. If you’re looking down at a cell phone for just a few seconds, imagine how far a car can travel.” he said. “ Even with hands-free, it’s been proven that you can’t do two things at once.”