Crash Case Turns into One of Mom Versus Cops

The case of a drunken driving crash that killed a 5-year-old boy in May appears to have become one of mom versus cops.

A report from the Steger Police Department claims that while Kathie LaFond was being arrested by Chicago Heights police, who said she was driving on a suspended license, she failed to tell police her boyfriend had been drinking.  The report also claims she told the officer to let the boyfriend drive home with her little son in the back.

Thirty-five minutes after her arrest in Chicago Heights, that boyfriend, 22-year-old Cecil Conner, crashed the Chevy Cavalier into a tree in nearby Steger.  Michael Langford Jr., who was strapped in his safety seat, was killed instantly.

Since the tragic events of that May 10 morning, LaFond has been adamant she told Chicago Heights police that Conner was drunk and that she begged them to prevent him from driving off

Chicago Heights police have denied that claim for weeks and have maintained there was no indication during the stop that Conner was drunk when they turned over the car keys to him.

Now a Steger police report, summarizing an interview with LaFond hours after the crash, indicates she told police to let Conner take the car home and that he was OK to drive. 

"She told the officer to let Cecil drive. She did not tell the officer Cecil had been drinking," Steger police detective Peter Fajman wrote of his interview with LaFond.

LaFond's attorney, Mark Horwitz, argues that LaFond was in no condition to be speaking to police in the hours immediately after her son's death and points out that the interview ended because LaFond became too upset.  Horwitz blames the Chicago Heights police officer for not stopping Conner from driving.

Recordings of Steger police and dispatch conversations, released Thursday, indicate that Steger police could tell immediately that Conner was drunk. 

The first Steger officer to arrive at the crash scene, Sgt. Gerald Ruff, said Conner stunk of alcohol and fell over backward while waiting for ambulances.

"He's going to be at least twice if not triple the limit," Ruff said, referring to Conner's blood-alcohol content. "He's in a room with a neck brace on, his face is all black and blue. You can just smell how strong the alcohol is there. This is gonna get ugly."

But while Conner's drunkenness seemed obvious to Steger police, the Chicago Heights officer who gave Conner the keys told a Steger investigator that he spoke to Conner and found no reason to not let him drive.

Regardless of who said what, Horwitz said Friday, the onus was on the Chicago Heights officer to not let Conner drive.

"In Chicago Heights, they have an ordinance that says when you get somebody or arrest somebody for driving on a suspended license, they have to impound that vehicle.  So how somebody that's under arrest can possibly tell a police officer, 'My drunk boyfriend can go ahead and take my child home' defies logic.  It's as though I could tell you that you can go drive 100 miles an hour down Lake Shore Drive because I said it's OK.  It just didn't happen that way," said Horwitz.

Horwitz said that by the time Steger police wrote their reports, they already understood the repercussions Chicago Heights police could face if they let a drunk man drive a car containing a child.

"Steger might be covering for them, too," Horwitz said. " Of course that's what they're going to say. We have something on the tape that says, 'We're sitting in a room right now and (Conner) stinks of alcohol.' They know something's going to happen."

Conner has been charged with reckless homicide and remains in the Will County jail.

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