Family wants upgraded charges in DUI crash

November 18, 2008 8:42:57 PM PST
A grieving family wants more serious charges filed against two drivers who were involved in a deadly DUI accident. Prosecutors now say they believe police did not properly investigate the crash.

One of the alleged DUI offenders in the crash was an off-duty Chicago police officer.

Because it was a deadly accident, family members of the victim are demanding that felony DUI, not misdemeanor DUI charges, be filed. The victim's family says they're dealing with "sobering justice."

Thirty-five-year-old Denise Gerzen died at an intersection on the city's Southwest Side in June of 2007. She was riding on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle driven by off-duty Chicago police officer Eugene Bikulcius. They were coming from a neighborhood bar.

"She lived with me. We did everything together. She was my best friend. I lost my best friend," said Monica Shaughnessy, friend.

According to the police report, the motorcycle struck the Dodge Charger as its driver, 49-year-old Carol Miller, was making an illegal left-hand turn. The impact was so hard police diagrams show the motorcycle impact turned the car 180 degrees.

"it certainly raises some red flags about how fast this motorcycle was going," said Steve Burrows, Gerzen family attorney.

On the night of the accident, the driver of the car, Miller, was arrested for misdemeanor DUI. Police reports show that Officer Bikulcius was taken to the hospital and neither charged nor given a breathalyzer.

"We kept questioning the state's attorney, and they kept saying he wasn't at fault, he wasn't at fault," said Scott Gerzen, victim's brother.

The Gerzens spent five months writing elected officials and prosecutors. The Cook County state's attorney eventually uncovered hospital blood tests that showed officer Bikulcius was intoxicated that night. He registered three times the legal limit. That's when the state's attorney also charged him with misdemeanor DUI charges.

But according to the secretary of state's DUI fact book, drivers under the influence who cause a death usually are charged with Class 2 felonies with up to 14 years in prison.

"They both should be charged with felonies. If that was me, I would. I would have been in jail that night," said Scott Gerzen.

*The Cook County state's attorney says Bikulcius "was not charged with reckless homicide because the evidence from an inadequate investigation would not support a finding that his actions caused the accident. The defendant Miller was charged with misdemeanor DUI because that same inadequate investigation left us with evidence that would only support the misdemeanor charge."

Bikulcius and Miller both declined to comment Thursday on the way to court to face their misdemeanor charges. If convicted, each driver could face up to a year in jail.

After the hearing, Miller's attorney said he too believes that the CPD failed to properly investigate Bikulcius' blood alcohol level and that Miller did not see Bikulcius and his motorcycle coming.

"All I know is that this investigation was botched from the beginning. They did not look at him as one of the potential offenders like they should have," Burrows said.

The Gerzens' family attorney says police never performed an accident reconstruction to determine how fast Bikulcius was driving the motorcycle. He says pictures show no motorcycle skid marks in sight. In police reports, Bikulcius says he was going 25 - 30 miles per hour in the 35 mph zone.

"I lost my daughter, and I just want justice for my daughter, that's it," said Denise Gerzen's mother.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson said that Bikulcius was unconscious at the scene, so no breathalyzer was given. As for why a police breathalyzer was not given at the hospital, the spokesperson says there "appeared to have been confusion at the hospital with the officer's identification."

Bikulcius has been relieved of police powers and is on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation and the charges.


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