Sorry lapse of judgment
A completely avoidable manhunt is underway.
It's clear now that the law enforcement response to the New Year's morning interstate car crash that led to the death of a Mahomet woman was little more than a tragic fiasco.
LaDonna "Jeannie" Brady was killed in a head-on collision caused by a motorist driving in the wrong direction on Interstate 74. The other driver, Esteban J. Tomas, also was injured. He faces charges of aggravated driving under the influence.
But the criminal case is now on hold because Tomas, who should have been in jail, subsequently fled Champaign County to escape the charges filed against him. What happened?
After the crash, Tomas was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana for treatment of a broken arm. Later, he was allowed to leave the hospital with a notice to appear in court on charges of driving under the influence and not having a valid driver's license.
If that seems like an obviously wrongheaded way to handle a case of this nature, it is.
That's why the agency handling the investigation — the Illinois State Police — has had virtually nothing to say about why Tomas wasn't immediately arrested and taken to the county jail following his hospital discharge.
In fact, the law enforcement bureaucrats at District 10 in Pesotum have refused to address the matter in a substantive way.
The agency recently released a statement — issued under the name of a sergeant, not even the acting district commander — that indicated "District 10 has recognized our current protocol for handing aggravated DUI was not properly aligned" with the state's attorney's office and that it is working to "ensure our protocols are updated and on point."
Well, isn't that great?
Bureaucrats issue statements like that when they're scrambling to minimize public disclosure and avoid being held accountable for horrendous lapses of judgment. They issue carefully written evasive statements that minimize shocking errors — "our current protocol ... was not properly aligned" — and reveal as little as possible.
How much further do state police protocols need to be updated to know that a suspected drunken driver in a fatal car crash with no driver's license and citizenship in another country is a flight risk?
The state police could have kept an eye on Tomas while he was at the hospital and taken him into custody after his treatment was complete. If manpower was an issue, they could have asked area law enforcement agencies for assistance.
Instead, for unfathomable reasons, they turned their backs on Tomas, and he did what suspected illegal immigrants often do when they run afoul of the law. They flee.
Compounding the problem, authorities don't even know who they are looking for. Tomas, who has been deported four times, goes by five different names, and has a reputation of knowing the ropes when it comes to crossing national boundary lines.
Authorities have defended their initial confusion about this incident by stating they had no eyewitness reports to indicate what happened. In other words, they did not know who was responsible for the accident. Reports indicated that police did not know the directions the two motorists were headed.
That is a relatively minor point, one that was quickly resolved with further investigation.
What's not in dispute is what police knew about Tomas when they were making their decision not to hold him.
Under the circumstances, it would seem natural for police to recognize the gravity of the situation and hold Tomas in custody for safe keeping.
They clearly had the legal authority to do so.
Shouldn't common sense play a role in this kind of scenario? Isn't it about more than "aligning protocols" to produce a proper result? Not according to the state police.
If there is, they are not and probably won't be saying. But they're not fooling anyone. The state police made a tragic and indefensible mistake.