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After troopers killed, Pritzker pushes bills to protect ‘our heroes’ on roadway

Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, May 15, 2019  |  Article  |  Tina Sfondeles

Following the deaths of three Illinois State Police troopers this year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and a group of bipartisan legislators are pushing for the passage of two new bills to try to stop more roadway fatalities, including a measure to enhance the penalties for drivers who injure or kill emergency responders.


Another bill would create a task force to study the causes of crashes and find ways to protect law enforcement and emergency workers.


In late March, the same week Pritzker and Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly urged the public to abide by “Scott’s Law” — which requires motorists to slow down or change lanes around traffic stops or emergency scenes —Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was struck and killed by the driver of a semitrailer while she inspected another semitrailer on Route 20 in Freeport.


Jones-Story is one of three troopers killed so far this year, with another 13 troopers injured in crashes.


Trooper Christopher Lambert, 34, was killed in January as he pulled over to report two crashes involving three vehicles on northbound I-294 near Willow Road. And Trooper Gerald Ellis, 36, was killed by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 94 near Libertyville on March 30.


“There are few times that this office weighs heavier on me than when we lose one of our finest. The calls to comfort the families, the funerals laying our heroes to rest. There have been too many,” Pritzker said at a Springfield news conference. “I believe today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction, and we do it in memory of Trooper Jones-Story and Trooper Lambert and every emergency responder that we’ve lost.”


Under the new proposed legislation, Scott’s Law would also apply to first responders, IDOT workers, law enforcement officers and any individual authorized to be on the highway within the scope of their employment. It would also increase the minimum fine to $250 for a first violation and to $750 for a second violation.


The criminal penalty would also be increased to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail if the violation resulted in damage to another car; or a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to one to three years in prison if someone is killed or injured in a crash.


A question about Scott’s Law would also be included in a written question on the driver’s license test, should the legislation pass.


Scott’s Law currently requires drivers to change lanes if possible — or, if they can’t, slow down and proceed with caution. As of 2017, the law was updated to include members of the general public when pulled over with emergency flashers on.


The law is named for Chicago Fire Lt. Scott Gillen, who was struck and killed at an accident scene in 2000.


Tina Sfondeles

Follow me on Twitter @TinaSfon Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com