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Intersection crashes with emergency vehicles

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois Emergency Services Vehicles

Intersection crashes with emergency vehicles

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
January 23, 2011

Generally speaking, it's a good idea to avoid a crash with an emergency vehicle that is using its emergency lights and siren (or, in Illinois, lights or siren). It spoils your day. It spoils the officer's day. He doesn't get to the call to which he was hurrying. And you get the ticket.

Several years ago I spoke with a driver who had been hit by a police car that he said ran a red light. When I inquired whether the officer had gotten a ticket, he asked, "Can police officers get tickets?" He fought the allegation that he had been at fault. He later told me that it had taken three years, but the City of Woodstock finally paid him for the damage to his vehicle.

I recall a story of a rookie police officer elsewhere who got into an accident on the way to a call. It was his fault, so he wrote himself a ticket! And, much more recently, a Wisconsin police chief passed a stopped school bus, and he wrote himself a ticket - and paid the fine!

I'm awaiting the crash reports for last Wednesday's crash in Woodstock at Route 47 and Lake Avenue, where there is an IDOT traffic signal. One of the drivers must have had a red light, yet apparently no one was ticketed for running a red light. One civilian driver was ticketed for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. At this point I'll assumed that Ms. Tara Madigan, of Woodstock, who was driving southbound on Route 47, had a green light. The speed limit is 35MPH, but daytime traffic usually does not allow a driver to move at that speed.

A Woodstock police officer was westbound on Lake Avenue and, according to witnesses (not identified by the newspaper), there was a "stopped 2000 Chevrolet Trailblazer that was facing east on Lake Avenue"). So, was the light red for Lake Avenue traffic in both directions? Was it red for the police officer?

The light could have been green for westbound traffic, if the signal was allowing westbound left-turning and through traffic to proceed was green, while through eastbound Lake Avenue traffic waited on its red. But then it would have been red for Route 47 traffic. And Ms. Madigan would have gotten a ticket for running a red light.

But she didn't get a ticket for running a red light, which causes me to think that she had a green, and the Woodstock officer had a red.

What does Illinois state law say about police running red lights?

"The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may ... 2. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be required and necessary for safe operation." 625 ILCS 5/11-205(c)2

So, a police officer can "proceed" past a red light, but he must do so safely. If he doesn't do so safely, then a crash is likely. Did last Wednesday's crash happen because the officer pulled out into the intersection unsafely and into the path of the other car?

If so, the investigating deputy from the McHenry County Sheriff's Department made an error in issuing a ticket to Ms. Madigan, and she should fight it. No deal. No plea bargain. She should get a good, strong attorney to fight this ticket for her. And sue, if necessary, collect all the damages to repair her vehicle, to pay for the paramedics and the hospital and doctors' bills, and enough extra to reimburse her for her legal expense in fighting the ticket.

Now, if the police chief can quickly ascertain that the police officer did proceed through a red light and drive in front of Ms. Madigan, then the City should quickly step up and have the ticket dismissed AND arrange payment of all her damages. If the City is at fault, it makes no sense to fight a claim and only increase its eventual pay-out.

I wonder what the crash report will have to say about which driver had a red light or if the report will be silent about that. The driver of the eastbound Trailblazer knows, as will any impartial witness(es). If anyone witnessed this accident, contact the drivers and inform the Woodstock P.D. that you witnessed the accident. Ask that a supplemental report be written, and submit your own handwritten or typed statement of what you saw for attachment to that report.

You might also follow up and confirm that your own statement did get attached to the report. One of my own statements did not. I have always felt that Woodstock's prosecuting attorney would have won his case, had he known what was in my report. The officer's report indicated that my report was attached, and his supervising sergeant signed off on the report. However, the Woodstock PD Records Department didn't have the report, and so the prosecuting city attorney never got it. Where did it get lost between the sergeant's desk and the Records Department?

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