William Dammeyer went to the Home Depot in McHenry on March 31 looking for a new battery for his lawnmower and never made it home alive.
He was walking into the store, in a crosswalk, when a 2008 GMC Sierra HD pickup rolled through a stop sign, hit him, and continued moving forward, crushing his body under the front tire. He died hours later after being airlifted to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
After a McHenry Police investigation, the only charge McHenry County prosecutors decided to bring against Christian Zientko, the then-19-year-old driver of the truck was failure to stop at a stop sign.
Considering that a man who was minding his own business was hit and killed, a simple traffic ticket doesn’t seem a strong enough penalty.
Maybe that’s what McHenry police expected the public would think. It could explain why they tried to keep the police reports and video out of the hands of the public.
Although a police spokesperson said in May that the investigation was closed and Zientko would face no charges beyond failure to stop at a stop sign, police initially denied a Freedom of Information Act request from the Northwest Herald seeking the full police report on the case. After an appeal to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor, they sent part of the report on Sept. 4.
That wasn’t enough. So on Wednesday, they sent the full report, including statements from witnesses and reports by investigators.
On Thursday, we obtained the video – from a third party.
The video is blurry, but it clearly shows the truck rolling through the stop sign and not pausing as it hits Dammeyer on the front driver’s side. Bystanders later rush in to offer aid. Driving a vehicle is a responsibility and a calculated risk. It is always possible for mishaps to occur and people can die, particular when they occur at high speed.
However, this accident led to the death of a pedestrian who was walking in a crosswalk in a parking lot in the middle of the day. The driver should have been paying attention. He should have been going slow enough to prevent what happened. He should have stopped at the stop sign. Instead, he rolled through it, hit Dammeyer and killed him.
Because Dammeyer was walking in a crosswalk and was killed, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office could suspend Zientko’s driving privileges for a year if he’s found in court to be at fault. There’s no potential punishment that could make Dammeyer’s family whole. It’s true that there are civil remedies for negligence that causes wrongful deaths – his family could sue Zientko.
But the picture painted by that blurry video from the Home Depot parking lot is very telling. It shows a death that was completely unnecessary, that easily could have been avoided, but wasn’t.
Shouldn’t that command more consequences than a traffic ticket?