The charges against Officer John Ardelean were dismissed Friday after a judge ruled that the 36-year-old cop had been arrested and detained without probable cause in connection with the deadly accident.
Officer Ardelean, of the Belmont district, left court a free man after prosecutors dropped the charges. Escorted by several officers, he said nothing to reporters.
Authorities say the off-duty police officer had been drinking at a River North bar and was drunk before his SUV struck the victims' car at Damen and Oakdale. However, Ardelean's fellow Belmont district officers who responded to the crash scene later testified there was no indication that he was drunk. In court, a police supervisor testified he ordered Ardelean to submit to a breathalyzer seven hours after Ardelean appeared to be drunk, smelling of alcohol and having bloodshot eyes. His results were just under the legal limit. A judge dismissed and criticized the supervisor's testimony because the police lieutenant admitted to allegedly telling police Internal Affairs investigators something completely different.
Friday's decision left the victims' relatives angry about what they called a police cover-up. They say justice was not served.
"We're very disappointed with the system. As much as we like to think that race was not an influencing factor, societal ranking, it really was, and it's clear. And the results of this just shows the expendibility of our people in this city," said Victoria Lagunas, the victim's cousin. "It's very disappointing, and it's very tragic."
"You murdered somebody. You took his son, and you took my aunt's son, and you took a cousin. You took a family member. And now, there's going to be a murderer walking the streets driving drunk," said Mayra Lagunas, also a victim's cousin.
The case has been a rollercoaster ride for relatives of the victims. Ardelean was originally charged with misdemeanor drunk driving. Then, that charge was later upgraded to a felony after a videotape from the nightclub where Ardelean allegedly had been drinking surfaced. The judge then dismissed that. After pressure, the state's attorney's office refiled the charges and reopened the case, only to have that case dismissed Friday.
Prosecutors released a written statement Friday expressing their regret:
"A court ruling in this case last month quashed officer Ardelean's arrest and suppressed key blood alcohol evidence that would have been required to enable the prosecution to meet its burden of proof," the statement read.
"They have reached a settlement with the insurance company of Mr. ardelean which has paid out the legal limit three times," said Dan O'Connor, Flores family attorney.
"I'm hurt that we couldn't continue on, but it is what it is, and I have to accept," said Nancy Flores, the victim's sister.
A civil lawsuit is still pending against the nightclub where Officer Ardelean was drinking the day of the crash.
The Chicago Police Department's internal investigation of the incident reportedly remains open.
Officer Ardelean is currently on administrative duty and relieved of police powers.