Judge reduces Auroran’s sentence in 2009 double fatal accident on Route 47
By Dan Campana For The Beacon-News August 15, 2012 4:42PM
Alia Bernard / photo from Kane County State's Attorneys office
Updated: September 17, 2012 1:00PM
ST. CHARLES — Judge Allen Anderson didn’t think prosecutors made any missteps in how they charged Alia Bernard in the deaths of a St. Charles couple, but he did reconsider his own decision on how long Bernard should spend in prison.
At a hearing Wednesday, Anderson denied a request by Bernard, 28, of Auroran, to withdraw her guilty plea to aggravated driving under the influence charges. He agreed with prosecutors that Bernard waited too long to withdraw the plea, and also rejected claims her due process and speedy trial rights were violated.
Anderson did, however, reduce Bernard’s prison sentence from seven years to six after rethinking one aggravating factor. Anderson changed his mind on whether her actions caused harm, an inherent part of the aggravated DUI charge.
Anderson’s decision to uphold the guilty plea sets up an appeal by Bernard’s attorney, Michelle Moore, who said a notice of appeal would be filed Thursday. Moore previously said the case was likely headed to the Second Appellate District.
“There’s a good basis for an appeal,” Moore said.
Bernard pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence in the 2009 double-fatal crash on Route 47 near Elburn that killed Wade and Denise Thomas of St. Charles. The couple was part of a motorcycle ride when Bernard rear ended a stopped car, pushing it into the path of the motorcyclists. Several other riders were also injured in the chain-reaction crash.
Prosecutors in 2011 were able to cite marijuana in Bernard’s system at the time of the crash in seeking more the serious aggravated DUI charge on top of reckless homicide and misdemeanor DUI charges filed in 2010. Prosecutors acknowledged, however, that Bernard was not impaired by the drug at the time of the crash.
Bernard, who testified she was reaching for a pair of sunglasses when she struck the stopped car, pleaded guilty in December 2011 and was sentenced last February. Judges admonish defendants in plea agreements that they have 30 days from the time of the plea to seek to withdraw it. Anderson said there was nothing in Bernard’s case to give her more time to change her plea.
He also disagreed with Moore’s explanation of how prosecutors should have been barred from levying “new and additional” counts — aggravated DUI — against Bernard two years after the crash while approaching a trial date.
The Kane County state’s attorney’s office tied its re-indictment of Bernard in May 2011 to an Illinois Supreme Court decision which allowed more breadth to how an aggravated DUI charge can be applied. Moore said prosecutors could have charged Bernard with aggravated DUI at any point, but instead ambushed Bernard’s original attorney with the new counts on the eve of a trial.
Crash victims and supporters of the Thomas family once again filled Anderson’s courtroom for Wednesday’s hearing. Some hugged and cried after hearing Bernard would serve one year fewer than her original sentence. Jere Bozonelos, who remains in a wheelchair and has been regularly hospitalized since the crash, disagreed with any lessening of Bernard’s prison term, saying she should have received the maximum.
Bernard is being held in the Decatur Correctional Center with a scheduled parole date in 2018, although that will change after Anderson’s sentence reduction.