Illinois Public Media News
Two new laws taking effect in January will ban the practice of texting while driving in Illinois. A backer of the measures calls them an important first step, but not enough. Gloria Wilhelm's son Matt died in Urbana in 2006. The bicyclist was struck by a motorist who later admitted to downloading a ring tone while behind the wheel.
And Wilhelm suspects it's the cause of more accidents than is being reported. "There's a lot of fatalities out there that haven't really been attributed to this, but there's some unknown causes," says Wilhelm. "So something is causing people to go into another lane and hit someone head on. I think this is a very good start. I really think it's more dangerous than drunk driving because it's more pervasive. More people are talking and texting than driving drunk." The distracted driving laws will also ban instant messaging, personal digital assistants, and portable computers, as well as all cell phone use while driving through a highway construction zone or school zone.
Wilhelm questions why driving everywhere else is so much safer, but says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could one day seek legislation that bans cell phone use while driving outright. Wilhelm also notes that more employers are banning cell phone use while driving on business to avoid a possible lawsuit.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn would not say if he knew beforehand his administration was releasing inmates after they served just weeks in prison. Quinn suspended the program over the weekend after a report by The Associated Press some inmates served less than three weeks behind bars. Quinn said Monday that Corrections Department Director Michael Randle has broad discretion to run his department. He added if there are questions about how something is being done it's the governor's job to review it. After he learned about everything in the AP report, Quinn said he decided a closer look was needed. The suspended program gave inmates good conduct credit in advance. Corrections officials say the department was saving money in a budget crisis by not transferring the inmates to other prisons for short terms.
The director of the Illinois State Fair wants to take her experience to work in another circus environment - the political circus of the state Senate.
Amy Bliefnick is running in the central Illinois district held for 26 years by Republican Frank Watson, who was senate minority leader until a stroke forced him to resign this year. Democrats see his replacement, Kyle McCarter, as vulnerable - and Bliefnick says she's begun to see herself as an apt candidate as the February primary approaches. "I declined the offer because I never really pictured myself as a politican," says Bliefnick. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my background, my experience and leadership, is a perfect fit for state government."
Bliefnick faces competition from Macon County Board member Tim Dudley, who also says he'd bring an outsider's perspective to the Senate, taking a modest swipe at Bliefnick's government role. "I've not been involved in anybody's administration or anything like that," says Dudley. "I think I'm just the right person at the right time - a good new fresh face. And that's what seperates me from anybody else." Both Bliefnick and Dudley are from Decatur, which is now the population center of a thin, oblong 51st district that snakes from Moultrie County southeast to the Metro East area.
Illinois health officials have expanded H1N1 flu shot eligibility to anyone seeking one, starting on Tuesday.
And area health departments have responded by scheduling vaccination clinics in Champaign and Danville next week. Champaign-Urbana's public health district holds four days of free clinics that begin Tuesday. That's when anyone over age 64 can receive the shot. Administrator Julie Pryde says supply has been good enough to offer vaccine for walk-ins during the week, along with helping providers like Carle and Christie Clinic. Meanwhile, Vermilion County's Health Department conducts its own clinics on Wednesday and Thursday. Administrator Steve Laker says it's unlikely his department would conduct any more clinics before Christmas, but that could change with the emergence of additional cases of flu-like illness.
"We would immediately gear up and scale our program back up," says Laker. "And we wouldn't have any trouble going back out to remote sites to do that. We've had excellent cooperation from local schools and other organziations that hosted sites, so we wouldn't have any problem. The only thing that might potentially affect that is what resources we have left after December 29th." The Vermilion County Board has scheduled a special meeting for that date, in which it could decide to downsize or dissolve the county's health department because of slow state payments. It's currently owed about $800,000. Laker says if the board did choose to shut down his department, there's no telling how much advance warning his offices would have or how services like vaccinations would continue.
The clinics in Danville are from 10 to 6 on Wednesday and 7 am to 12 pm on Thursday. Vaccinations at Champaign-Urbana's Public Health District run from 9 to 6 Tuesday thru Thursday, and 9 to 1 next Friday at its offices on West Kenyon Road.
The FBI will be brought in to have a separate look at what occurred in Champaign on the day that Kiwane Carrington was fatally shot.
City Police Chief R.T. Finney says he wants a fresh set of eyes from outside Champaign County to have a look at State Police reports concerning the confrontation and scuffle with police on October 9th that resulted in the 15-year old's death. This federal investigation would not review the decision by Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz, who determined this week that no charges would be filed locally against officer Daniel Norbits.
Finney says this separate investigation could result in federal civil rights or criminal violations. Finney notes this request comes after groups like CU Citizens for Peace and Justice were critical of the handling of the Carrington case and its result. "The FBI in some situations could prompt an investigation themselves. They did not do that," says Finney. "The investigation could be prompted by somone in community. That wasn't done. And so I determined I would do that myself and initiate this investigation to hoepfully appease some of the critics who are indicating this is not a fair investigation." Finney says a civil rights violation could result in civil penalties, like a consent decree concerning police policies. Finney says the Department of Justice could produce ideas similar to what's being suggested by Champaign city leaders in the wake of the Carrington shooting, like the hiring of more minority police officers.
Finney says there's no telling how long the FBI could take to review the case.
Adam Lentz is taking a week from his studies at the University of Illinois to go back to his home town in Europe. But it'll be a working break - his home is Copenhagen, where representatives from the world's countries have gathered to hammer out an agreement on climate change. Lentz is a Fulbright graduate student studying natural resources and environmental science. When he was an undergraduate at the University of Copenhagen, he was the president of the Union of Danish Natural Resource Students. He's going to the Copenhagen summit to monitor its progress, and he sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about his expectations.
Gov. Pat Quinn marked the one-year anniversary of Rod Blagojevich's arrest by signing into law Illinois' first-ever campaign contribution limits.
Quinn signed the bill Wednesday. He says it isn't perfect but is a step to ensure Illinois has honest, clean and open government.
The reforms were inspired by the scandal surrounding Blagojevich, who was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, on federal corruption charges and later removed from office by lawmakers. He's pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial this summer.
The measure limits how much money people, interest groups and political action committees can give to candidates. But it only caps what political parties and legislative leaders can give to candidates in primaries and not in general elections.
Reformers say they'll continue to push for those limits.
The state's attorney's decision not to file charges in the Kiwane Carrington shooting did not satisfy people who spoke on the subject at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. And the city's handling of the case also came in for criticism.
Pledges by Champaign officials to look at ways to improve relations between police and African-American youth were not enough for Champaign County Board member Carol Ammons, whose district includes much of northern Champaign. She called Tuesday's news conference by city officials a well-crafted piece of public relations, in which no one took questions from the public.
"I suggest that if you want to move forward", said Ammons, "beyond providing social service programs, recreation and basketball, that you would decide that you start with allowing yourselves to be interrogated by the community that has hundreds of questions surrounding this death."
Ammons also cited emails obtained by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, which she says gives the impression that the investigation was tainted by interference from city officials, including council members Will Kyles, Marci Dodds and Deb Feinen. In the last case, Ammons said Feinen corresponded with State's Attorney Julia Rietz on the case while the investigation was ongoing.
When asked about Ammons' charge, Feinen denied that her correspondence tainted the investigation. She said she only forwarded mass emails to Rietz that publicized rallies or contained criticisms of the Carrington shooting, and did not add any substantial comments.
"I don't have any information", said Feinen. "I wasn't at the scene. I didn't interview any witnesses. I haven't talked to any witnesses. So I don't know how that's interference with the investigation."
Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson says the death of Kiwane Carrington has had a negative impact on how young people in both Champaign and Urbana regard the police and other authority figures. Simpson coordinates the peer mediation program at Urbana Middle School. And she told council members her students are asking her about the city's handling of the Carrington shooting.
"They say, 'Miss Beth, we don't understand, why aren't they saying they're sorry? Why won't they even say they're sorry? Whether it was an accident, whatever degree of responsibility it was, why won't anybody take responsibility?'" said Simpson. "And they mean you, too. They mean the police, but they mean you, too."
Simpson says she had not known until the hearing about it at the council meeting that there was any sort of apology from a city official. Earlier in the day, Police Chief R-T Finney said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences and sorrow to the Carrington family". And he said that while the Officer Daniel Norbits did not intend for his gun to go off, killing Carrington, "make no mistake the weapon was ours, it was discharged and I am ultimately responsible for the actions of our police officers."
Members of Kiwane Carrington's family also attended the city council meeting, but did not speak. Afterwards, Rhonda Williams, Kiwane's aunt, said she had already commented enough.
Champaign council members made no public comment following the remarks from the public, and left the chamber to go into closed session over a matter of potential litigation.
There will be no criminal charges against Champaign police officer Daniel Norbits - his service weapon was the one that fired, hitting and killing 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle on Vine Street two months ago. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz spent nearly a month looking over more than a thousand pages of testimony and hours of taped interviews. On the day she declared the shooting an accident, she sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
A Champaign police officer who fired the gun that killed a 15 year old boy last October will not face criminal charges.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz has decided that Officer Duane Norbits fired his weapon accidentally when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed outside a Vine Street home.
Witnesses had called police saying Carrington and another teen were trying to get into the house, which Carrington had visited in the past at the invitation of a family friend who lived there.
In her 13-page summary of the state police report, Rietz says there was no evidence that Officer Norbits intended to fire his Glock 45 - she says the report concluded that it went off while Norbits was struggling with Carrington with his weapon drawn. Rietz says because the shooting was accidental, there would be no reason to analyze whether the shooting was justifiable under use-of-force policies.
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