Local Editorials

Our view: Throw book at Depner

Just when we hoped we’d heard the last of him, Walter Depner returned to the news last week.

In August 1999, Depner made a choice that a family whom he’d never met paid for with their lives. Thomas Burleson was driving his family home from Six Flags Great America on Route 120 near Lakemoor when an intoxicated Depner crossed the center line in his minivan and struck Burleson’s vehicle.

Eva Burleson, 43, and her children, Daniel, 13, Tiffany, 11, and Dallis, 7, were killed in the crash. Thomas Burleson also was seriously injured, but he survived.

It was as bad a tragedy as one could imagine. Evidence showed that Depner had a blood-alcohol level of 0.107 more than three hours after the crash. An expert estimated his blood-alcohol rate was likely 0.17 at the time of the crash – more than twice the legal limit.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, who sentenced Depner in 2003, called the case “without a doubt the most egregious case of reckless homicide in the history of McHenry County.”

Three young children and their mother dead. A husband and father grieving beyond imagination, having to start life over.

Anyone with a heart mourned with Thomas Burleson.

Then there was the defendant, Walter Depner. After killing four innocent people, he urinated on police and hospital staff who tried to collect samples following the crash.

Not once publicly did Depner show remorse.

He fought his eventual punishment each step of the way for more than three years. He never apologized to Thomas Burleson, and remains defiant to this day. In exchange for his actions, prosecutors sought and received a maximum prison term.

Depner was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He served about 12 before being released on parole in June. As Depner’s case lingered in the courts, Illinois law changed. Under the new laws, he would have been eligible to serve up to 28 years in prison.

One week ago today, McHenry County Sheriff’s police say Depner was at it again. Except this time he was driving under the influence of the prescription drug Klonopin. Prosecutors said the prescription was not his, nor did he have a driver’s license.

Prosecutors appropriately upgraded the new misdemeanor driving under the influence charge to a felony because of the previous offense. They also say Depner could be eligible for an extended term of up to 10 years.

Thankfully, no one was injured or killed this time.

But Walter Depner clearly remains a danger to society. He has learned nothing from his incarceration or his actions.

If he is found guilty, he must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Justice must be served, and the public must be protected.

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