It's been nine months since 14-year-old Hunter Himes was struck by a car while riding his bike in Darien, and for the first time, his family is feeling some sense of closure.
Hunter, who would have been a freshman at Downers Grove South this fall, was left in a persistent vegetative state from brain injuries suffered in the accident. His parents, Mark and Terra Ihde, put him on hospice this week after learning he would not recover.
For the past several months, the Ihdes have been attending court hearings for the driver in the crash, Timothy J. Hagan, who pleaded not guilty to failing to yield to a pedestrian.
The Ihdes were joined Thursday by several family members at the DuPage County Field Court in Downers Grove for Hagan's long-awaited bench trial. During the hearing, Hagan's attorney, Jeff MacKay, claimed Hunter rode into Hagan's Honda Ridgeview while he was waiting to turn right onto Lemont Road from Beller Road.
After about an hour of testimony and deliberation, however, Judge Robert E. Douglas found Hagan guilty of failure to yield. He was given the maximum sentence of 300 hours of community service, and issued a $1,500 fine.
Hunter's family cried and held each other close as the judge read his verdict.
"I know there is no penalty stiff enough ... Nothing will bring Hunter back," Douglas said. "But please know I gave everything I could give in this case."
Though the Ihdes expressed some sense of relief after the trial, they angrily questioned why the case was brought to trial in the first place.
"My family and I have been dragged through the mud for months, all because this man didn't want to take responsibility for his actions," Terra said. "It's a joke, especially when you consider the fact that he's walking away with a fine and community service, and we're left without Hunter."
Hagan: "I Pray for Hunter Every Single Day"
During his testimony Thursday, Hagan told the court he was driving his two sons to a restaurant when he struck Hunter, who was riding back to his Downers Grove home after visiting a friend in Darien.
Hagan was traveling eastbound on Beller Road when he approached the stop sign at Lemont Road. He claimed he stopped and looked both ways as he waited for traffic to clear, then pulled up past the white line to get a better view of traffic from the north.
With his truck mostly obstructing the area between sidewalks, Hagan claimed he looked both ways and didn't see any pedestrians. After about 45 seconds, he felt a bump, he said, prompting him to briefly release his brake and move forward two feet.
When Hagan got out of his truck, he found Hunter trapped under his front right tire. Hagan called the police, then "sat on the ground, held the boy's hand and said a prayer," he told the judge.
When the SUV struck him, Hunter’s head slammed into the ground, resulting in injuries akin to shaken baby syndrome. He was transported to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Hagan, meanwhile, was transported to Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, where he was questioned by Darien Police Officer Doug Rummick. During his testimony, Rummick told the judge Hagan was "visibly upset," and was given anxiety medication to calm his nerves. He was also administered tests for drugs and alcohol, both of which he passed.
Although Hagan claimed he never put his foot on the accelerator, Rummick said in his report that Hagan admitted to accelerating slightly after feeling a bump.
Oak Brook Detective Benjamin Kadolph investigated the crash with the DuPage Felony Investigation Assistance Team. He testified that despite Hagan's claims, the damage to the vehicle and reconstruction of the scene indicated Hunter was in front of the truck when he was hit.
Because Darien allows bicycles on sidewalks and crosswalks, Hagan was responsible for stopping, not Hunter, police said.
In his closing statement, Hagan's attorney argued Hunter was in violation of an Illinois statute, which states that pedestrians should not suddenly go into the path of a moving vehicle. The judge shot down the argument, citing the fact that Hagan himself claimed to be stopped for 45 seconds before he ran over Hunter and his bicycle.
The judge said he found Kadolph's analysis of the crash to be credible, and questioned the reliability of Hagan's testimony.
"(Hagan's) testimony doesn't indicate he knows how the accident happened," Douglas said. "He didn't even know the cyclist was there."
Hagan, who showed little emotion during the hearing, addressed the court after the ruling.
"I didn't do this on purpose," he said. "I pray for Hunter every single day."
Hunter's Family Pleads for Stricter Distracted Driving Laws
After the judge handed down his ruling, Terra and Mark Ihde tearfully approached the bench.
Terra turned to Hagan with two photos of Hunter, one from before the accident and one from after. He was recently placed on hospice, though doctors are unsure of how much time he has left, she said.
Mark told Hagan he made a "mockery" of the accident and "further desecrated" his son by contesting the traffic citation.
Although the family has yet to decide if they will sue Hagan, Terra said they are unsure how they'll cope with Hunter's extensive medical bills, which now total $1.2 million.
Paul Darrah, spokesman for the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office, declined to speculate whether Hagan could face more serious charges if Hunter succumbs to his injuries, but said it has happened in other cases.
For now, the Ihdes are focused on the time they have left with Hunter.
"It could be weeks, it could be months. We're not sure what lies ahead," Terra said.
The Ihdes said they will continue to work for increased penalties for distracted driving. The consequences of hitting everyday pedestrians like Hunter are relatively weak, they said, considering that hitting a worker in a construction zone carries a fine of $10,000 and up to 14 years in prison.
"My son's life is worth more than community service," Terra said.
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