Local Editorials

Our view: Maximum sentence for Depner

In March 2013, Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board published an editorial in this space under the headline: Our view: Throw book at Depner.

We feel just as strongly today.

The Depner in question is Walter Depner, who served 12 years in prison for what McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather called at the time “without a doubt the most egregious case of reckless homicide in the history of McHenry County.”

In August 1999, Depner was driving drunk on Route 120 near Lakemoor when he crossed the center line in his minivan. Thomas Burleson was driving his family home from Six Flags Great America when he was struck by Depner’s vehicle.

Eva Burleson, 34, and her children, Daniel, 13, Tiffany, 11, and Dallis, 7, were killed in the crash. Thomas Burleson also was seriously injured, but he survived.

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.

Was Depner remorseful after this tragic event?


After killing four innocent people, he urinated on police and hospital staff who tried to collect samples following the crash. He fought his conviction and punishment each step of the way for more than three years. Not once did he publicly show remorse or apologize.

Depner served about 12 of his 14-year prison sentence before being released in June 2011.

In February 2013, Depner was arrested again, this time for driving under the influence of the prescription drug Klonopin near the same area as the 1999 crash.

On Monday in a McHenry County courtroom, Depner pleaded guilty to aggravated driving under the influence. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 29. He faces a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

“To be honest, I’d be happier if it’s 10 [years] instead of 5,” Thomas Burleson told the Northwest Herald after the plea hearing. “It doesn’t involve me, it doesn’t involve my family, but I learned a long time ago that we have a legal system not a justice system.”

Depner’s obviously learned nothing since the 1999 tragedy and remains a threat to society. We urge the court to sentence him to the maximum.

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