SYCAMORE — Patricia Schmidt's attorney said her acquittal Thursday gave new life to the 49-year-old Sycamore woman once accused of reckless homicide in the crash that killed a local couple.
Defense attorneys Gregg Smith and Jonathan Minkus said the case alleging reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving shouldn't ever have been brought to court. Smith called Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert's decision courageous.
"This was a negligence case at best," Smith said. "The judge did the right thing."
Authorities said Schmidt was driving more than 70 mph on Feb. 21, 2011, when she ran a red light at the intersection of Route 23 and Peace Road in Sycamore. Her pickup truck collided with the white Pontiac Grand Am carrying Tim Getzelman, 21, a Sycamore High School graduate, and his girlfriend, Alexis Weber, 21, a Kaneland High School graduate. Both died as a result.
Schmidt would have faced probation or up to five years in prison if convicted of the more serious charge, reckless homicide. Schmidt was released from jail while the case was pending since posting $50,000 bail on April 6, 2011.
The trial began in late January and continued a few days at a time until Thursday.
Testimony revealed Schmidt likely suffered a seizure just before the crash. Schmidt's neurologist, Andrew Ta, testified he was OK with Schmidt driving and knew she was driving herself to doctor's appointments. Ta never filed a notice with the Secretary of State forbidding Schmidt to drive. Stuckert said Schmidt always listened to her doctor and faithfully attended all appointments.
Prosecutors asked Stuckert to put more emphasis on Schmidt's decision to drive rather than her doctor's own expert opinion, Stuckert said.
""I cannot take that out of the equation," Stuckert said. "Isn't that we expect ourselves to do?"
Stuckert called on citizens to call their legislators and change seizure driving laws. Dawn Weber and Tamara Getzelman said they will call State Rep. Bob Pritchard to request the laws in Illinois to change. Most states in the United States require those with seizure conditions to have a seizure-free period before they are allowed to drive. Some states also mandate doctors to report epilepsy conditions. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, Illinois does neither.
"Maybe we'll get some validation so other families don't have to go through what we've had to go through in the last three years," said Tamara Getzelman. "We're never going to get our children back."
Pritchard said he would try to visit with the families and hear their concerns, but he said it would be difficult to enter legislation soon because the bill would likely have to be heard by a committee and out of the House by next Friday.
"While we can certainly introduce bills to correct some of this, passing them is not always a sure thing," Pritchard said.
Schmidt had her driver's license canceled pending the outcome of the trial. She can now file a request with the Secretary of State to get her license back, said Assistant State's Attorney Phil Montgomery.
One thing friends and families of the victims wanted from Schmidt was an apology, which they said they never received since the day the couple died.
" 'I'm sorry' goes a long way," said Sandy Cubica, a family friend of Dawn Weber.
Schmidt was initially charged with aggravated driving against the influence, which carries a sentence of between six and 28 years in prison, a charge prosecutors dropped in September. DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack previously said that no experts from the three labs prosecutors consulted would testify that Schmidt had been under the influence at the time of the crash.
Montgomery said he was disappointed with the verdict but respected the decision. He disagreed with Smith's assertion that the case should have never been brought.
"One of our jobs is to present the evidence and make sure the defendant gets a fair trial," Montgomery said. "The judge found her not guilty. The system worked."
Defense attorney Jonathan Minkus said having a judge decide Schmidt's fate rather than jurors helped them tremendously.
"I had great faith in the judge's ability to overcome a tragic situation," he said. "We're very proud of the fact that justice was done here in DeKalb County."
Dawn Weber disagreed. Although she's glad she doesn't have to come back to court again, she doesn't think she'll ever finalize the grieving process for losing her only child.
"I'm going to cry tonight, and sleep hopefully," Weber said Thursday. "We'll keep on keeping up. That's what we do."
Tamara Getzelman said holding the Random Acts of Kindness Day on Feb. 21, the anniversary of the crash, helps both families move forward.
"It reminds us to be kind and to treat others the way you want to be treated," Tamara Getzelman said.