Latest DUI charge upgraded against man who killed family in 1999

Walter Depner
Walter Depner

WOODSTOCK – Charges have been upgraded against a parolee who served more than a decade in jail for a drunken crash that left a woman and her three children dead in August 1999.

Walter J. Depner, 61, now faces felony counts of aggravated driving under the influence and driving with a revoked license after being arrested Sunday night near Lakemoor.

Members of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched for a well-being check Sunday for a person who reportedly drove off the road in the area of 905 W. Rand Road/Route 120 near Lakemoor.

A second call was later received about a man in a nearby home in the 500 block of North Boulevard.

The homeowner said that Depner, now of Mount Prospect, pulled his vehicle into the driveway, walked into the house, and then sat on the couch.

Police at the time described Depner as upset, slurring his speech and intoxicated. He told deputies that he and his girlfriend had gotten into an argument and he decided to take her car for a drive in his old neighborhood.

He was initially charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence, improper lane use, driving with a revoked license and driving an uninsured motor vehicle.

Depner was then transported to an area hospital for evaluation.

He was released Wednesday, and immediately taken into custody by deputies.

The charges were upgraded, and Depner remains at the McHenry County Jail on a $60,000 bond.

“It’s based on his prior record,” First Assistant McHenry County State’s Attorney Norm Vinton said of the upgraded charges. “[Depner] was initially charged with misdemeanors because the officers didn’t know his history. These were the most appropriate charges to jump it to.”

The area where the car reportedly went off the roadway Sunday was near the site of the fatal crash that left four members of the Burleson family dead — Eva, 34; Daniel, 13; Tiffany, 11; and Dallis, 7.

After being sentenced in 2003 to 14 years in prison, Depner was released on parole in June 2011.

The crash occurred as the family was driving along Route 120 in Lakemoor after spending a day at Great America and then picking up the family dog from Eva Burleson’s mother’s house. The dog was also killed.

Depner’s minivan crossed the centerline and crashed nearly head-on into the Burlesons’ Volkswagen minibus, ripping open the side.

Depner also was charged with aggravated battery for urinating on an officer and a medical technician who tried to collect a urine sample in the hours after the crash. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, which was served concurrently.

• Reporter Sarah Sutschek contributed to this report.

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