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Our View: Court has opportunity to right a wrong

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The criminal justice system should have done a better job protecting the public from Benjamin Black.

According to police reports, Black, 28, of Sycamore caused a chain-reaction accident on Route 64 in Kane County on Feb. 27. The crash killed 11-year-old Matthew Ranken of Sycamore and seriously injured Teale Noble, an 18-year-old Sycamore woman who was pregnant.

Black’s SUV rear-ended the car the two were riding in on a night when police noted the road was covered in spots with blowing and drifting snow.

Black walked away from the destruction with citations for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and driving without insurance. The Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office says a urine sample Black provided that night later tested positive for heroin. But it wasn’t until months later, on May 7, that Black was charged with aggravated driving under the influence of a controlled substance. In the intervening 76 days, Black continued using drugs and was accused of another crime, court records show.

On March 20, Black was charged with felony theft in DeKalb County for allegedly stealing more than $4,000 of coiled copper and brass from American Cold-Headed Products in Cortland from March 11-19. The owner of the business installed a security camera after noticing material going missing, and police say the video footage led them to Black.

On March 25, DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert allowed Black to be released on $1,000 bail and to be placed on a home-monitoring device. Court records show that a week later, on April 2, Black violated the terms of the home monitoring program. He was found unconscious inside a friend’s car outside a Walgreens in Villa Park, where Black was waiting while the friend went to buy hypodermic needles. The woman told police she thought Black had injected himself with heroin.

Black told police he had drunk codeine cough syrup and taken a painkiller; he later tested positive for opiates, records show.

Police and prosecutors sought to remove Black from the home monitoring program, but Stuckert ordered April 11 that Black remain in the program and undergo drug and alcohol treatment and submit to drug tests.

That lasted until May 6, when the DUI charges were filed in the February crash.

We question why Black – who records show has faced previous charges for drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs in DuPage County – repeatedly received the benefit of the doubt.

After police said he caused an accident that killed one of the community’s children, he returned to the community with no charges filed for almost two months. After being charged with stealing from a local business, he was released on home monitoring. After being found passed out in a car somewhere he was not supposed to be and testing positive for opiates, he again was freed.

Kane County authorities blame the delay in getting results from the Illinois State Police crime lab for the delay in DUI charges. It is well-known the DeKalb County Jail is overcrowded and the county spends money to have inmates held elsewhere.

But excuses are cold comfort for people who police say have been robbed of a child or of property by Black, or been seriously hurt because of him.

Black’s continued run-ins with the law should have been enough to suggest to authorities he was potentially dangerous to himself and to others, and drug use seemed to be the underlying issue.

On June 26, a Kane County judge will hear Black’s request for a reduction in his $250,000 bond for the aggravated DUI charge, possibly to not require posting any money at all.

It is time that Black stop receiving the benefit of the doubt. The request should not be granted.

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