Fatal crash yields multiple charges for Georgetown woman

A 41-year-old Georgetown woman will stand trial later this year on charges stemming from a May drunk-driving accident that killed two people.

Vermilion County Circuit Judge Nancy Fahey on Thursday found probable cause to try Valerie D. Simpson on two counts of driving under the influence.

Simpson went to her preliminary hearing on crutches. Represented by Assistant Public Defender Bill Sohn, she pleaded innocent to the charges.

A jury trial was set for Sept. 28.

Aggravated driving under the influence is a Class 2 felony, which typically is punishable by three to seven years in prison and a $25,000 fine. However, under special penalty provisions that apply because of the fatalities, Simpson could face up to 28 years in prison for each charge if convicted.

After the hearing, State's Attorney Frank Young said he could file reckless homicide charges against Simpson, depending on the outcome of an accident reconstruction report.

On the same day, a Champaign County coroner's jury ruled the death of one of the victims – Patty Downing, 44, of Westville – a homicide.

The two-vehicle collision occurred on Illinois 1 between Westville and Georgetown at 10:52 p.m. May 4. The accident also killed Charles Morton Jr., 71, of Danville.

At Simpson's hearing in Danville, Illinois State Police Trooper Rob Kotcher testified that Simpson's blood alcohol level measured .176 percent – more than double the legal limit of .08 percent – shortly after the accident.

When he interviewed her at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, he said, she had red eyes, her speech was slurred and he could smell alcohol on her breath.

"She stated she didn't recall anything about the accident," Kotcher told Young.

Kotcher said Simpson was driving her Dodge Caravan south on Illinois 1, south of Clingan Lane, when she crossed the center line. She was so far over in the northbound lanes that her minivan struck the passenger side of a northbound Chevy extended-cab pickup truck, driven by 59-year-old Robert Downing of Westville.

Accident reconstructionists said the debris field was "well over 100 yards," Simpson said.

Emergency personnel extricated Mrs. Downing, the truck's front seat passenger, and Morton, a back-seat passenger, from the wreck. Mr. Morton was pronounced dead at the scene, while Mrs. Downing died of brain injuries on May 6 at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Simpson, who was thrown from her van, and Robert Downing were also injured.

At Mrs. Downing's inquest, Illinois State Trooper Ryan Fuoss testified that her husband's blood alcohol level measured .183 percent, also over the legal limit.

Robert Downing faces a driving under the influence charge. His jury trial is set for Sept. 18.

Simpson remains free on a $100,000 recognizance bond.

News-Gazette staff writer Mary Schenk contributed to this report.

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