In 2005, Anita Sue Zaffke graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor’s degree at the age of 52.  Also in 2005, Lora L. Hunt became a Registered Nurse at the age of 44.


Four years later (last Saturday) Zaffke was coming home from her son’s house after making plans with him for Mother’s Day.  Hunt was traveling from one daughter’ house to another daughter’s house, transporting a baby crib.


Zaffke had stopped her Honda Shadow motorcycle at a traffic signal when Hunt hit her from behind with her Chevy Impala automobile.  Zaffke died.  Hunt spilled her fingernail polish.


Today is Friday, May 8, 2009.  The Zaffke funeral took place in northwest suburban Lake Zurich this morning.  In southwest suburban Morris this morning, the attorney hired by Hunt said the following to the local newspaper:


People have to realize, however, that every day people are talking on the phone, texting, eating and such while driving.  These are things we do every day, and people have to be aware of that.  These are things that happen every day.  People need to remember that – it happens every day.


Hunt’s lawyer is saying that drivers who choose to divide their attention are the norm.  Zaffke’s death is her own fault because she should have known that there are drivers like Hunt sharing the road with her.


A biker idling at a traffic signal is completely vulnerable to a car striking from behind.  Completely helpless.  Such a biker is completely dependent on the drivers who may be approaching from behind to be in control of their vehicles.  Mother’s Day is the day after tomorrow.  This mother will be absent:



So far, Hunt has been issued a minor traffic citation.  The Sun-Times reports that “it is unclear if a crime occurred.”


Hunt should be charged with reckless homicide.  A drunk driver or a speeder willfully chooses to endanger others on the road because he is not in control of his car.  So does a fingernail polish applier.






additional thoughts, May 12th:



Yesterday, Michael Waller, State’s Attorney for Lake County was interviewed by John Williams of WGN radio 720 on a May 11th Podcast.  He observes that Illinois does not have a crime of “Negligent Homicide” that would occupy the middle ground between the “Failure to Reduce Speed to Avoid an Accident” and “Reckless Homicide”.  Lora Hunt was cited for “Failure to Reduce Speed” at the scene.  To be charged with “Reckless Homicide” she must have been more than negligent, or have been negligent in a plurality of ways.


It is well-established that a driver may not be reckless.  If he is, he is guilty of “reckless driving”.  If he kills someone, it is “reckless homicide”.  The facts of the Hunt/Zaffke conflict are not in dispute.  The only question is whether Hunt’s behavior was reckless or not.


Hunt was not DUI, but in Illinois DUI establishes a (rebuttable) presumption of recklessness, and that presumption is instructive:  A driver is DUI even if he is driving safely.  He doesn’t have to be weaving.  A driver who obeys all traffic laws and exhibits complete command of his vehicle is still DUI if a biometric says so.


And that biometric alone establishes recklessness if he kills someone.


So it is not the driving behavior that enables a “reckless homicide” charge; rather the recklessness stems from the self-imposed impairment.  Drinking is legal.  So is texting and so is polishing one’s fingernails.  And so is self-imposed impairment.


But if you drive with self-imposed impairment, you are reckless.


For myself, I don’t talk on the cell phone while driving.  Some people can but I can’t and I know it.  Still, I think that a law that prohibits all phone use while driving would be overbroad.  I would suggest that the phone prohibition should apply only to men over 40 and women over 60.  Compared to drinking, impairment from phone use is more subjective.


But we don’t need more laws about phones being hands-free and regulating the size of keyboards used for texting and specifying the degree of detail in fingernail decoration.  What we need is more personal responsibility.


Reckless driving is already illegal.  Distracted driving is reckless driving – a distinction without a difference.  All the media discussion about the pervasiveness of distracted driving excuses a straw man.  distraction is not less reckless because it is pervasive.  As the Tribune describes:  Right now, today, it is against the law to polish your fingernails under certain circumstances.



Anita Zaffke was stationary at a traffic signal when she was splattered like a bug on Lora Hunt’s windshield.  Road conditions and visibility were good.  There was no intervening force.  By her own admission, Hunt did not see Zaffke because she was not looking.  Ergo, Lora Hunt was reckless.






May 19th:


Earlier this month, Thomas Brittenham was sent to prison for Reckless Homicide.


From the spot where Anita Zaffke died, it is 180 miles south to the spot where Holly Billman died.  Both Anita and Holly were guilty of nothing.  They did nothing to contribute to their own deaths.  They both died on Illinois roads for nothing.


Neither Thomas Brittenham nor Lora Hunt were DUI.  Both were driving in ways that would not have attracted the attention of law enforcement had there not been a vehicle/vehicle collision.  Neither was accused of speeding.  Both were simply not looking.


Thomas Brittenham was not able to see far enough down the road because of a fog.  Lora Hunt was not able to see far enough down the road because she was painting her nails.  Thomas Brittenham will spend four years in prison for Reckless Homicide.  Lora Hunt…







June 2nd:


On June 8th, one month after the Anita Zaffke funeral, Lora Hunt will be in court to answer the misdemeanor citation she received at the scene.  (Update:  She will not go to court on June 8th – see the June 4th entry below.)  Felony charges have yet to be made as one more blogger offers advice for the State’s Attorney:


Overall Americans tend to have this arrogant attitude of entitlement to "creature comforts" that is starting to not only irritate the rest of the world but cause real harm to those around us.  Add to this the asocial nature of humans brought on by a faster paced lifestyle and even the anonymity of hiding behind a keyboard all day, and we don't even care who we hurt – as long as it doesn't interrupt our schedule.  Yet we continue to blame and regulate helmets, guns, acetone, ephedrine, and other inanimate objects as the real causes of these unfortunate "I'm only human" incidents.


Our "don't judge" attitudes take the focus off how we can prevent so many accidents.  We do little to enforce the laws already there to prevent accidents – a failure to use turn signals, rapid/multiple lane changes, and aggressive driving apparently go unnoticed - but those are things that can and do cause accidents.  Now seat belt and helmet laws abound here in the US but they don't prevent anything. Ask yourself which one's get more press?  We have to start thinking about why we do what we do!


While I don’t care if American culture “irritates” the rest of the world, this gentleman makes several good points.  If Zaffke had not been wearing a helmet, third parties would say, “Well, she was asking for it.”


She was wearing a helmet but it provided no defense from Hunt’s reckless actions.  More to the gentleman’s point:  Neither Zaffke’s helmet nor Hunt’s seatbelt had anything to do with preventing this “accident” – there was nothing accidental about it.  Our cultural focus on making cars safer engenders a moral hazard among drivers.  Emphasis on helmets and seatbelts deemphasizes real individual responsibility.


Zaffke was also wearing a bright yellow jacket.  Besides, she was stationary at the moment of impact.  Hunt was moving tons of steel at highway speeds.  Our cultural reflex that Hunt was somehow not responsible is as absurd as the idea that Zaffke somehow shares the blame.







June 4th:


In Illinois, death certification is performed be an elected Coroner.  In Lake County he is Richard L. Keller, M.D.  Independently from the elected State’s Attorney, the elected Sheriff and the several municipal police departments, the Coroner conducts medical and legal investigations.  He has a duty established by statute to determine the “manner of death”.


On the Death Certificate, the manner of death is specified.  It is one of only five things:  Natural, Homicide, Suicide, Accidental or Undetermined.  These are mutually exclusive categories – a death cannot be both Homicide and Accidental.  After the autopsy and other evidence was gathered, Dr. Keller conducted a “case conference” with his deputies and found the manner of death.



We now know that Anita Zaffke was not killed in an accident.  She was the victim of a homicide.  State’s Attorney Michael Waller has dismissed the “Failure to Reduce Speed” misdemeanor so that double jeopardy will not prevent more serious charges from being asserted.  He will (presumably) present this matter to the Lake County Grand Jury that will (presumably) indict Lora Hunt for a Class 3 Felony, punishable by 2 to 5 years in a state penitentiary.


A Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by one year in the Lake County Jail, would be a slam-dunk.  Lora Hunt is clearly (imho) guilty of Negligent Vehicular Homicide.  Unfortunately that law does not exist.  There is no Class 4, Class A or Class B crime that fits these facts.  The more serious Class 3 crime of Reckless Vehicular Homicide requires a showing of more than mere negligence.  Alternatively, the Class C misdemeanor of Failure to Reduce Speed to Avoid an Accident typically results in a fine of $75 and nothing more, though it can include one month in the Lake County Jail but no more than that.


Coroner Richard Keller and State’s Attorney Michael Waller should be congratulated on recognizing this for what it is.  As soon as we can likewise congratulate the Grand Jury we can begin the trial.  Fasten your seatbelt.







September 16th:


The wheels of justice turn slowly.  It is now 4.5 months since the killing.  The Lake County Grand Jury has returned a six-count indictment.  Lora Hunt is now charged with Reckless Homicide.


There are six counts, but she did not kill six people.  Rather, the prosecution is asserting six aggravating factors that make her behavior reckless.  Remember, it is not specifically illegal to polish your fingernails while driving your car.  However, this case will establish whether it is reckless to polish your fingernails while any of these six conditions also exist:


1       “at approximately 50 miles per hour


2       approached the traffic control device at US Route 12 and Old McHenry Road


3       on a curved roadway surface”


4       which was stopped at the intersection at US Route 12 and Old McHenry Road


5       approached the intersection at US Route 12 and Old McHenry Road


6       knowing she was in proximity to other vehicles being operated on the roadway”


She was not paying sufficient attention to her driving because she was also tending to her manicure.  That behavior triggered national discussion about “distracted driving”.  Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Mermel coined the new term “oblivious driving”:


He said Hunt was "oblivious" to the safety of the other motorists on the road.


"Distracted driving is ... changing the radio station or yelling at your kids," Mermel said.  "(This) was not distracted driving.  It's almost intentionally reckless."


In May, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran called Zaffke's death an accident that resulted from a "momentary lapse" of judgment.  Mermel bristled at that description.


"This was never an accident," he said.


It should be noted that there is no legal difference between unintentional recklessness and intentional recklessness to establish the charge of Reckless Homicide, which is a type of involuntary manslaughter.  The recklessness stems from her behavior, not her intention.  No one is saying that Lora Hunt intended to kill Anita Zaffke, nor that she intended to kill anyone, nor even that she intended to be reckless.


But no one can deny that Lora Hunt was recklessly oblivious of another human being.


Anita Zaffke was wearing bright, reflective clothing and a helmet as she waited at a stop light on a bright, clear day.  Lora Hunt did not touch her brakes* until after impact.  The only question remaining is whether she will admit her guilt or whether she will make the incredible argument that her right to paint her nails trumps a biker’s right to life.


*By her own admission, reported in the Chicago Tribune “chi-nail-polish-fatalmay05,0,570584.story” which quoted the sheriff’s incident report, which quoted Lora Hunt.










This is Lora Hunt.







This is Lora Hunt’s drivers’ license:







And this is the arrest warrant for Lora Hunt:






October 8th:


Well, she had her chance and she blew it.  Defendant Hunt stood in open, public court and effectively announced to the world that her right to paint her nails trumps a biker’s right to life.  She could have admitted her guilt and asked for mercy which might have resulted in simple probation.  Instead she claims she is not guilty at all.


Which is no surprise, really.  Why agree to a felony conviction if her lawyer can “get her off” altogether?  Everybody claims to be not guilty, right?  Just as her defense will undoubtedly be that everybody polishes their nails while they roll down the highway, right?  This is just a $75 homicide, right?  Just bad luck, right?  This is all so unfair to poor Lora.  Her lawyer, Jeff Tomczak, has already started singing that song:


"She's devastated, distraught by what's happened," Tomczak said after the brief proceeding. "She was delivering a crib to her daughter when this happened ... If folks are looking for an evil person in this case, she doesn't fit the bill."


What does he think evil looks like, I wonder.  Sure would be easier on the cops if they knew what to look for.  Tomczak has all the answers.  If you are a nice person, you should be allowed a homicide or two.  No need to admit guilt if you can demand forgiveness:


"In my 25 years of practice, I have never met a person who has suffered worse than Lora Hunt," Tomczak said. "She is truly sorry, very remorseful and prays everyday for the victim and her family."


That’s right.  No one has “suffered worse” than defendant Hunt; she is the real victim.  Except:  Why does she feel remorse if she is “not guilty” of anything?  Why is she “truly sorry” and why does she pray everyday for “the” (her) victim if she didn’t do anything wrong?  Why does she care about Anita Zaffke’s family if she believes that Anita Zaffke brought this on herself?


That is what Lora Hunt is effectively saying through her lawyer, Jeff Tomczak.  And since she has not been convicted she is presumed innocent:  The judge said she can travel out-of-state for a vacation later this month.  The judge said she can travel routinely out-of-state to her visit a daughter.  The judge said she can keep her Illinois license to drive.


Let’s not get all emotional or anything.  It’s not like she’s convicted.  Not yet.




Brandon Gates is convicted.  Three weeks ago he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for Reckless Homicide.  This 22 year-old was the driver in a single-car accident 8 months ago in which his passenger died.  His lawyer, Jeff Tomczak, now represents Lora Hunt.


Jeff Tomzcak was elected State’s Attorney for Will County.  His re-election bid in 2004 was derailed two weeks before Election Day when his father, Donald Tomczak, was indicted on fraud and bribery charges.


Donald was Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Water Department.  He hired people and he awarded contracts to hire trucks.  He required precinct captains to canvass for Jeff and trucking companies to contribute to Jeff’s campaign fund.


In an apparent attempt to change the subject one week before Election Day, State’s Attorney Jeff Tomczak dramatically charged Kevin Fox with sexually assaulting and killing his own three year-old daughter.  The very next day, Tomczak announced he would seek the death penalty.  It didn’t work – he lost the election anyway.


One week after Election Day his wife filed for divorce, accusing Tomczak of “extreme and repeated mental cruelty”.


Less than eight months after Election Day, Kevin Fox was excluded by DNA evidence and released from custody.  He would later win a $15.5 million jury award for Malicious Prosecution.


Less than nine months after Election Day, Tomczak’s 72 year-old father pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to four years in a federal prison in Minnesota.  Tomczak said, “Now you have your pound of flesh from him.”


Then Brandon Gates retained Tomczak.  Then Lora Hunt retained Tomczak.




An arraignment is a non-event.  The constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial is satisfied by confronting this defendant with the Grand Jury’s indictment in front of a judge promptly after her arrest.  In this case, defendant Hunt has known that reckless homicide charges were coming since early June – four months ago and long before her arrest.


Still, this morning she was formally and officially informed that she had committed a half-dozen terrible offenses contrary to the Statutes of the State of Illinois and against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Illinois.  And that is a victory in itself.


Also, future court dates may be cancelled at the last minute, or kept but immediately continued to a later date, and defendant Hunt may not even appear, represented instead by lawyers.  So there were several reasons that those of us sympathetic to a biker, stationary at a red light and hit from behind, wanted to stand for Anita Zaffke on this day.


That is why a group of bikers gathered near the home of Anita’s son Greg whom she had visited just before her death.  They rode south on US Route 12, just as she had.  They reached the intersection where Anita was waiting for a red light.  Then they turned northeast toward the county courthouse.  I was waiting for them this morning on the 21 bridge over 120.  It had just started to rain just before they passed under it.



Then they sailed on east.



I wasn’t able to join them but the newspapers were waiting when they arrived.


Vince Pierri, Staff Photographer, Daily Herald


They parked and demonstrated.  A few of them sat in the courtroom.


Vince Pierri, Staff Photographer, Daily Herald


And then they left.  Defendant Hunt had already gone.  But things were different now.  For the first time in five months, Greg and his father can have confidence that mother and wife Anita will be honored within the justice system.  The possibility that her killer could be sent to an Illinois state prison for years will persist until the six counts pending against Lora Hunt are resolved, formally and officially.  The courts are bigger than any individual.


The individual who will speak for Anita’s vengeance – the one lawyer most directly involved in the prosecution of defendant Hunt – is Michael Mermel.  His boss, Michael Waller, is wholly supportive.  But it is Assistant State’s Attorney Mermel who will discuss the matter with witnesses, negotiate with defense attorneys and argue in court.  So I wondered what kind of guy he is.


Google reports that he is experienced, skillful, tenacious and motivated.  And this.  Possibly, defendant Hunt will never go to prison.  But just as it is certain that she will never walk the Earth again, so is it certain that Anita Zaffke will have her day in court.  That is guaranteed by the People of the State of Illinois and ASA Mermel.








A pre-trial Motion to Dismiss was originally scheduled for January 5th, but was postponed.  The motion to dismiss the indictment was heard on January 20th.  That afternoon, arguments were made and the judge said he will announce his decision on February 10th.


On February 10th, the judge rejected Tomczak’s suggestion that Hunt may have acted “unreasonably” but not “recklessly”.  The principles will gather before Associate Judge Foreman again on March 5th to confirm that they are all on schedule.  The trial is now set for May 3rd.


Anita Zaffke was killed by Lora Hunt on May 2nd – one year earlier.










She was found GUILTY.


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