Bless your family in this tragic loss.......
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Applying makeup while driving ranks up there in the danger zone with reading a book or dialing a cell phone, according to a federal report that takes aim at behavior officials allege may have played a role in a fatal collision in Lake Zurich.
Prosecutors are measuring the yawning gap between a traffic citation and felony reckless homicide as they decide whether criminal charges should be filed against a driver allegedly painting her nails when her car struck and killed a motorcyclist last weekend.
The wreck Saturday raises questions that have been fiercely debated in Illinois about whether a momentary distraction amounts to criminal behavior, comparable to drunken driving.
In the crash that killed motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, 56, of Lake Zurich, Lora L. Hunt, 48, of Morris was ticketed by the Lake County sheriff's police with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Prosecutors say it may be a month before they decide whether to bring additional charges.
"We are looking into charges in the case," Assistant State's Atty. Patricia Fix said. "But we are waiting for results of blood and urine tests and waiting for the results of an accident reconstruction, as well as any other technical evidence we can derive from the scene."
State Rep. William Black (R-Danville) pointed to the wreck as another example of the need for his proposed "negligent vehicular homicide" law, which would carry a penalty of up to 3 years in prison. Black introduced the bill this year after a bicyclist in his district was killed by a motorist downloading ringtones to a cell phone.
"Our cars are entertainment centers and mobile offices," said Black. " 'I've got to do my nails,' or 'I've got to get this done before I get into the office.' It seems to be getting worse and worse."
"Driving to Springfield today, I saw three cars that had a book propped up on the steering wheel," he said. "One guy was fumbling with a map. I've seen women doing their makeup and men shaving with a battery-powered shaver."
The 2006 federal safety report estimated that a driver applying makeup is three times more likely to get in an accident than someone paying attention to the road -- about the same likelihood of a crash as someone dialing a cell phone.
The sobering statistics helped spur a Distracted Drivers Task Force organized by state lawmakers, which recommended the negligent vehicular homicide law that Black sponsored.
Under current laws, prosecutors often must choose between filing a traffic citation and trying to prove reckless homicide -- that a distracted driver's recklessness was so extreme he or she acted with complete disregard for the safety of others, officials said.
Under the proposed law, distracted drivers who cause deaths would face a prison sentence as well as a $25,000 fine and revocation of their driver's license for at least one year upon conviction.
Despite backing from Secretary of State Jesse White, opposition from the state bar association and some state's attorneys stalled the bill. Black said supporters will try again.
"There should not be a criminal penalty affixed to a simple 'negligent' mental state," said Steve Baker of the Illinois Bar Association's criminal justice committee.
About 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Zaffke of the 1500 block of Eddy Lane in Lake Zurich stopped at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Old McHenry Road as the light turned from green to yellow, authorities said.
Hunt, driving a Chevrolet Impala behind Zaffke, told police "she was painting her nails as she drove and did not see [the motorcycle] until contact was already made," according to a sheriff's department incident report.
Hunt could not be reached for comment Monday, and nobody came to the door at her ranch-style home.
Defense attorney Ragan Freitag of Naperville said Hunt, a registered nurse, was alone and had not been drinking.
--Dan P. Blake, Andrew L. Wang, and Megan Twohey contributed.