Loophole Lets Teen Get License After Crash Puts Girl in ICU

Secretary of State Jesse White says he's proposing legislation to close loophole

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An accident on a suburban Grundy County road last year changed several teenagers' lives. Now, it is also leading to a change in the way first-time drivers in Illinois are licensed. (Published Monday, Oct 29, 2012)

    An accident on a suburban Grundy County road last year changed several teenagers' lives. Now, it is also leading to a change in the way first-time drivers in Illinois are licensed.

    On a warm fall night last October, the three best friends did what they had done so many times before: walked a short distance from their homes to grab a soft-serve ice cream cone. Walking home just a stone’s throw from their Minooka homes, they fell into the single-file line they naturally assumed, crossing a bridge that offered little space for pedestrians as traffic whizzed by.

    This time, they didn’t make it across.

    "I heard a thump and then Amanda scream," said then-13-year old Austin Robare, who was the first in the line.

    Amanda Boehm was behind him.

    "I'll probably never forget looking back and like seeing all of the blood," said Amanda Boehm.

    Last in the line, and now lying on the ground, was 13-year old Kelsey Little.

    "It was the passenger mirror that hit her in the face. It did break all the bones in her face," Kelsey’s mother, Nancy Deckelman, told Target 5. "When I got there, her head was wide open. Her skull was exposed. There was just blood everywhere."

    Witnesses, including Kelsey’s friends, told police the red truck that hit her kept going. Police reports show another witness followed that truck, and told the driver "he needed to return to the scene." 

    That is when police learned they had two teens at the center of this accident: the 13-year old being loaded into an ambulance, and the 15-year old driver behind the wheel, who had no driver’s license.

    NBC Chicago is not naming the teen driver charged in the case because he is a minor. What he is accused of doing that day changed Kelsey’s life forever. But it is what he’s accused of doing three days after the accident that left many other stunned.

    "He had the nerve to go in to the secretary of state's office and get a license- and he got a license. And it shouldn't have happened," says Marty Dolan, the attorney representing Kelsey Little’s family.

    After Kelsey was airlifted to Children’s Hospital, and as she lay in the Intensive care Unit, the teen driver was walking in to a Secretary of State driver facility. Just three days after the accident, he got his driver’s license. No questions about the accident were asked.

    With charges pending against the teen driver and his mother, who police say admitted she allowed her son to drive unsupervised, how did the teen get his state driver’s license? We asked Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

    "I'm upset about it, too," said White. "Because first of all, when you are driving an automobile and you have a learner’s permit, you have to have a qualified driver next to you... Our hands were tied because we were not notified about this accident."

    The Grundy County State’s Attorney says it did notify the state about the charges against the unlicensed driver in December, two months after the accident and after the teen got his license.

    According to current law, White's staff can only deny a license before it is issued or after a court ruling. It's a loophole White says he plans to change.

    "We are proposing a new piece of legislation that says, asks the question: 'Do you have a pending case in court dealing with a traffic violation?' White explained. If a teen answers, 'Yes,' or is caught lying, the office can then invalidate that license.

    But for now, more than a year after the accident, the teen driver is still on the road.

    "He gets to still go out and drive like nothing happened," said Robare said.

    The next hearing in this case is set for Mid-November.