Family and friends of an Austin woman killed after her motorcycle slammed into a van making an illegal U-turn are expressing outrage after that driver was fined $285 and given court supervision Wednesday.
Oak Park police say Lolita Brown, 40, of the 5500 block of W. Congress Parkway, Chicago had just dropped off a passenger at the Austin Boulevard Blue Line el station around 11 a.m. Sept. 16. As Brown started to make a U-turn from the far right southbound lane, her van was struck by a motorcycle driven by Jamilla Simms. Simms, 39, of the 5900 block of W. Washington Boulevard, Chicago was not wearing a helmet and suffered what were called “massive head injuries.” She was rushed to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where she was pronounced dead at 11:30 a.m.
Standing in a crowd of over 20 people prior to the court hearing Wednesday afternoon, including numerous members of her daughter’s women’s motorcycle club, Simm’s mother, Maxine Kelley said her purpose in being there was to see that Brown was “held accountable.”
“They consider this a misdemeanor,” she said of police and prosecutors. Asked what the family thought should have been charged, Kelley, her daughter and others replied in unison, “reckless homicide.”
Extra bailiffs and deputy sheriffs guarded the courtroom door and stood by outside as the hearing started.
About two dozen people, including Kelley, Jamilla’s sister Akilah and Jamilla’s fiancé Anthony Berry were present for Brown’s court appearance. Most were required to remain in the hallway outside the small courtroom, due to space limitations, although Kelley, Akilah, Berry and one of Simm’s children were eventually seated inside.
Standing without an attorney before Judge Mary Roberts, Brown, in blue jeans, a black leather jacket and long black ponytail, accepted without comment an offer to plead guilty to the charges of improper standing on the roadway and improper U-turn on a hill. A ticket for no proof of insurance was tossed out when Brown showed the judge a valid insurance card.
Brown was ordered to pay $150 in fines, and $135 in court costs. Roberts gave her 60 days to pay the $285, and told her her driver’s license would be returned when payment was made. The judge also placed Brown on court supervision for four months.
Brown was then escorted out of the courtroom by two Cook County Sheriff deputies, and to her car.
An audible murmur escaped from the four Simms family members when Roberts announced the $285 in fines. As they left the courtroom, the complaints became more verbal. “Kill somebody, get a $50 fine,” one man said.
“I don’t understand it. They let her go for two hundred and eighty five dollars,” he continued. “They need to talk to the state’s attorney. That ain’t right.”
Oak Park’s police chief, Rick Tanksley, said Thursday that his department had thoroughly investigated the accident and conferred at length with the state’s attorney’s office.
Tanksley called the incident “a senseless accident” and emphatically criticized Brown’s behavior.
“There’s no doubt the other driver exercised extremely poor judgment. Extremely poor judgment,” he said. “However, when we look at the law, (her) maneuver does not meet the requirements for charging a more serious offense.”
“We don’t take these things lightly,” he added. “If the state’s attorney’s office had found a way to bring more serious charges, we would have done so.”
State’s attorney spokesman Andy Conklin said Thursday that his office would have a formal comment on the case and Wednesday’s events as soon as possible.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Kelley, who has moved back to Chicago from Florida to live with her two orphaned grandchildren, expressed disbelief and frustration.
“She got off with a $285 fine for killing my daughter,” said Kelley. “(Prosecutors) didn’t even bring up the fact that my daughter was killed in the accident. I don’t understand the law. I really don’t.”
She said the issue is far from concluded.
“We’re going to file a wrongful death suit,” said Kelley. “We’re not going to give up.”
Thursday afternoon she and other family members continued to press their case on WGCI radio. In the meantime, she said, they are looking to find a lawyer to take their civil case.