Criminal charges filed in fatal UI crash

URBANA — The Champaign County state's attorney's office has filed criminal charges against an Urbana man who police say hit two female University of Illinois students last month with his pickup truck, killing one and injuring the other.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the charges against Willie Craft in connection with the death of Mimi Liu and the injuries to Spandana Mantravadi allege that Craft had cannabis metabolites in his system and drove recklessly due to his low blood sugar.

Right after the crash, Craft, 58, was issued traffic tickets for improper lane usage and driving without insurance. He has been summoned to court Dec. 6 to face two felony counts of aggravated driving under the influence and one felony count of reckless homicide.

The accident happened at 9:53 a.m. on Oct. 9 on a six-block stretch of South Lincoln Avenue between Nevada Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Craft had first been spotted driving erratically on Lincoln Avenue at Fairview Avenue, about 14 city blocks north of Nevada Street.

Once he was in the heart of the UI campus, Urbana police said, Craft's truck left the road several times, drove across a sidewalk and hit street signs.

After sideswiping a UI Facilities & Services truck, it continued on its spastic journey before jumping a curb and striking the women.

Ms. Liu, 20, a UI junior in agribusiness from Chicago, died shortly after the collision. Mantravadi, 20, a UI junior majoring in finance, sustained a broken ankle and required surgery.

Craft's truck eventually came to rest against the retaining wall alongside Illini Grove, about 50 yards north of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Because of the grave injuries to the women, Craft was required to submit to blood draws. The results, returned recently from the state crime laboratory, revealed that he had THC in his system, the active ingredient in cannabis.

Rietz said any amount of the by-product of the cannabis is enough to sustain a charge of DUI. It doesn't matter under the law how much was ingested or when, she said.

The aggravated DUI count involving Ms. Liu is a Class 2 felony carrying penalties ranging from probation to three to 14 years in prison. The aggravated DUI count involving the injury to Mantravadi is a Class 4 felony with penalties upon conviction ranging from probation to one to 12 years in prison.

The reckless homicide charge, a Class 3 felony, alleged that he operated his vehicle in a reckless manner, performing acts likely to cause death or great bodily harm. The penalties for that range from probation to two to five years in prison.

"The reckless manner had to do with his physical state at the time he operated the motor vehicle with regard to his management of his chronic diabetes. Following the crash, Craft was treated by paramedics for low blood sugar and he indicated he was diabetic and took insulin. He normally eats breakfast to keep (his blood sugar) up but he did not eat because he was preoccupied," Rietz said.

Craft told police he had not driven in three years because of his diabetes and on that day was planning to visit the secretary of state's office to get license plates and an insurance agent to get insurance. He did not have either.

Rietz explained that normally an uninsured person who injures someone with a vehicle would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. She said her office didn't file that count, instead proceeding with the more serious felony charges.

Rietz said her office researched the reckless homicide issue with regard to his medical condition.

"There have been other cases that support these charges with similar medical situations," she said.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on November 19, 2013 at 11:11 pm
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Good.