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Hit-and-Run Leads to $380 Fine

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Hit-and-Run Leads to $380 Fine

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
July 4, 2008

In early June I was tipped off to what was referred to as a "hit-and-run" accident involving a McHenry County Corrections (jail) officer at a Friday, May 9th party at Coleman & Co. on Lake Avenue in Woodstock. The party was the "Bailiff's Ball." Having read nothing in the local news about it, I contacted Woodstock Police Department with a FOIA Request on June 15.

On June 18 Karen Webb was fined $380 in McHenry County Court for "Failure to Give Notice of Accident." The charge was amended from the original charge of Leaving the Scene.

Witnesses to the crash reported that a woman backed a Ford Explorer out of a parking place and backed into a Ford pick-up truck. The driver got out of her vehicle and walked to the back of it (point of impact). Then she returned to her vehicle, pulled back into the parking space and then walked back into Coleman's.

A Woodstock police officer was dispatched to Coleman's and was told by customers that the driver of the Explorer had left Coleman's, and he could not locate her.

On Saturday morning a police sergeant met at the police station with a woman suspected of being the driver of the Explorer. She was read her Miranda rights and refused to sign the Miranda Notice. She also exercised her right not to answer questions. The sergeant directed the officer to proceed with identification steps, and the officer conducted a Photo Line-up with witnesses to the crash. They identified the driver positively.

Karen Webb was charged on May 15 with Leaving the Scene of a Property Damage Accident and ordered to appear in court on June 18. Webb posted a $100 bond.

On June 18 Webb was fined $380 on the amended charge of "Failure to Give Notice of Accident."

The lesson? Could it have been easier and cheaper to 'fess up that Friday night and just settle the damage claim? Did she really think that she would not be recognized and identified? Was there a reason that she did not want to talk to the Woodstock cops that night? Had she just found the other driver, it probably could have all been handled without any police involvement.

There is no reference in the police report to this being an alcohol-related crash. Was it? Obviously, with no contact with the driver immediately after the crash and before she re-entered Coleman's, it would be nearly impossible to convict on DUI, if she had been drinking. We all know that criminal justice system personnel never drink and drive; right? And a gathering of buddies at a local watering hole? They were all drinking sodas and lemonade...

The BIG question is why did it take a Freedom of Information Request to get this information? Why didn't the Woodstock Police routinely release this information to the press?

Woodstock Police have a precedent (at least one) of not releasing information to the press about accidents involving law enforcement personnel. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. City Administration and the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners must represent the public's interest and require the Police Department not to withhold accident and ticket information when police or deputies are involved.

My original FOIA Request was denied - not by the FOIA Officer at the Woodstock Police Department, but on his behalf by the law firm of the City of Woodstock. The unusual change in procedure probably resulted in unnecessary expense to the Police Department (City of Woodstock/taxpayers). Advice and letters from the City Attorney do not come without charge.

Why did the Police Department go to that expense, instead of just sending the denial letter using their boilerplate response?

My appeal of the FOIA denial was granted by Woodstock's City Manager Tim Clifton, although the response was heavily redacted. With the Case Number, the name of the driver was readily available from Court records.


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