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Teen in crash that killed Morris couple found guilty of failure to reduce speed

Morris teen gets $1,000 fine and suspension of driver's license

MORRIS – A Morris teenager accused of killing a couple in a crash last summer as they were riding their bicycles was fined $1,000 and will have his driver's license suspended after pleading guilty Tuesday to failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland said Mark and Janice Wendling were riding their bicycles June 21 on Old Stage Road, when they were struck and killed by the inexperienced driver.

The teen was issued a traffic ticket for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident at the time the crash occurred. By state statute, a petty offense charge can carry a maximum fine of $1,000.

Helland stated in a news release that over the next six months his office worked closely with the Grundy County Sheriff's Department to investigate the case to see if any additional charges were warranted.

"It is not unusual for a traffic fatality case to take months to conclude an investigation and make a charging decision," the news release stated.

The state's attorney's office and defense counsel had the teen surrender his license July 14 as a pretrial condition of bond, according to the news release.

Helland said the investigation included processing the crime scene, including a crash reconstruction and lab testing, as well as warrants and subpoenas gaining access to the teen's cellphone.

On Nov. 16, the state’s attorney’s office received the final report from the sheriff’s department, which included the results of the examination of the cellphone and its records. An examination of the cellphone did not yield anything to suggest that the teen was using it at the time of the crash.

The crash reconstruction report by the sheriff’s department estimated the teen’s speed at between 56 and 64 mph.

The news release stated that for a brief period of time, the case was under investigation to determine if the teen was driving while under the influence, but despite the report of the juvenile disposing of a small bag of marijuana at the scene, there was nothing to suggest he had smoked any of it leading up to the crash.

"In short, there was absolutely no evidence that the juvenile was impaired. Although the juvenile declined to give the Sheriff’s Department a statement regarding the accident, he allowed his blood and urine to be collected. The juvenile told officers that he last smoked marijuana two days before the accident," the news release stated.

The teen’s DUI kit was sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for testing and on July 27 a state police forensic scientist stated that the teen had THC, the intoxicant in marijuana, in his urine. The teen’s DUI kit was then sent to NMS Laboratory in Pennsylvania for analysis.

The teen’s blood was tested and found to have 2.8 nanograms of THC – well under the 5 nanogram legal limit. The result was reported to the state’s attorney’s office Aug. 9.

Helland stated in the news release that his office intended to charge the teen as an adult with two counts of aggravated driving under the influence for causing the deaths and the case was going to be presented Aug. 3 to a grand jury. However, because of a change in the law, the office was unable to bring the case to the grand jury.

On Sept. 21, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Wendlings' estates against the mother of the teen and the owner of the vehicle he was driving, alleging negligence. That case is ongoing.

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