Friday, May 7, 2010

For want of a nail

I think it fits the bill, at least, of criminally negligent homicide in Texas.

Woman painting nails before car crash found guilty

Driver is 'being made an example of,' attorney claims

BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter- Chicago Sun-Times
Though Lora Hunt insisted she wasn't painting her fingernails when she hit and killed motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, a Lake County jury Thursday convicted her of reckless homicide in the 2009 crash.

The guilty verdict left the 48-year-old Hunt in tears and brought little comfort to Zaffke's relatives, who were in the Waukegan courtroom.

"There's no winners today, there's no celebration or happiness," Zaffke's son, Greg Zaffke II, said outside the courtroom. "Two families will forever carry the hurt and anguish."

But Zaffke -- who wears black fingernail polish on his left hand to mark his mother's death -- said there is a crucial difference.

Hunt's family will be temporarily separated from her if she is sent to prison for the felony offense, Zaffke said, while his 56-year-old mother is irretrievably gone.

"I will never see or talk to her again, never get a hug," said Zaffke, 32. "I will likely spend more time of my life without my mother than I did with her."

Hunt was charged after her Chevrolet Impala struck and killed Zaffke on May 2, 2009, as she stopped her motorcycle for a traffic signal at Route 12 and Old McHenry Road near Lake Zurich.

Lake County prosecutor Michael Mermel argued during the trial that Hunt was so distracted as she painted her fingernails that she never saw Zaffke stopped ahead of her.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for about 3½ hours on Thursday before convicting Hunt, a nurse from Morris who previously had a clean driving record.

Hunt, who has five children and eight grandchidren, faces a maximum five-year prison term, though she also could receive probation.

She remains free on $100,000 bond until her sentencing next month.

Her family declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

But her attorney said he thinks authorities filed the charge against Hunt in part because she told police after the crash she had been painting her nails as she drove.

"She is being made an example of," lawyer Jeff Tomczak said of Hunt, adding: "I do believe the underlying act of painting fingernails was the impetus for the charge."

He contended that other actions taken by drivers -- including using a cell phone or tending to young children -- are as dangerous, but don't result in criminal charges after crashes.

Mermel said only that he was satisfied with the guilty verdict.

"The jury returned a proper verdict in this case," Mermel said.

Mermel, though, repeatedly insisted during the trial that Hunt's effort to do her nails while driving was so reckless it was criminal.

"She decided shiny nails for her are more important than life for Anita Zaffke," Mermel told jurors before they began deliberating.

Tomczak said he will ask that Hunt be sentenced to probation, rather than ordered to prison -- in part because she is so remorseful over causing the crash.

"If she could, she would give herself up for Anita Zaffke," Tomczak said.