Leigh Anne Dorris is not willing to blow her horn about, well, blowing her horn.
The 36-year-old LeRoy woman, the wife of University of Illinois trustee David Dorris, was convicted in a Champaign County bench trial last month of improper use of a vehicle horn. Her exuberance after an Illini victory over Purdue at a Jan. 28 basketball game ended up costing her $163.
While she declined to be interviewed, her husband, an experienced personal-injury trial attorney from Bloomington, called the incident "very embarrassing" and said his wife has been subjected to light-hearted ridicule ever since it happened.
"You'd have to know my wife to understand. I witnessed an episode of 'I Love Lucy,'" David Dorris said.
According to a transcript of a 10-minute long bench trial April 18 before Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus, UI police officer John Wright testified he was trying to direct pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the northwest parking lot of the Assembly Hall after the game.
Wright said he heard a single horn sounding for seven to 10 seconds at a time without stopping. When he turned toward the direction of the horn, he tried to determine who was honking by raising his hands to motorists as if to ask, "Who is it?" No one initially confessed. He turned back around and the horn sounded again, this time for two to three seconds.
Wright said he turned around again and mouthed the words, "Who's sounding their horn?"
"A female in a black Mercedes SUV tapped her horn, signaled, and I addressed her," Wright testified, identifying Leigh Anne Dorris.
He told her he was conducting a traffic stop for illegal use of a horn.
"She looked at me and she doubted my ability of stopping her, and she said, 'You mean for this?' and sounded her horn once again while I was talking to her," Wright testified.
Wright said Leigh Anne Dorris initially refused to show him her license and proof of insurance and told him that the stop was "ridiculous."
As traffic ahead of her started to move, Wright said Leigh Anne Dorris also began moving, prompting him to tell her he would arrest her for attempting to elude an officer if she didn't stop. She stopped but told him she wanted his name and badge number so she could file a complaint with his department, Wright said.
Wright said his supervising sergeant could see something was up and came over to the SUV. Wright said his sergeant talked to David Dorris and learned he was a member of the board of trustees. That, Wright said, caused his superiors to review the citation carefully later.
Asked why she insisted on going to trial rather than just pleading guilty, David Dorris replied: "Because Leigh Anne, when she thinks she's right, does what she does."
David Dorris said he wasn't present for the bench trial but on the night of the stop felt like he was witnessing an exchange between two misbehaving kindergarten students.
"The cop's authority has been challenged and Leigh Anne just knows she has a right to blow her horn," he said, reiterating how embarrassing the situation was, especially since their two children were in the back seat.
He said he didn't know why she was honking and urged her to stop.
"That was the wrong thing to say to my wife," he said, adding she usually does the driving because "she doesn't think I can drive well."
David Dorris said Wright was not privy to the conversation he was having with the supervising sergeant and said in no way did he try to get special consideration by letting the sergeant know he was a trustee.
"My memory (of the conversation with the sergeant) is 'I can't believe this is happening. It's embarrassing to me that a trustee's wife is not behaving with the decorum I would expect of a trustee's wife.' It was just a farcical situation. It was more in the vein of, 'Please, can this all go away.' It was not the kind of situation you would want," he said, adding he finds the humor in it now but didn't that evening.
Although Leigh Anne Dorris' attorney argued that the Assembly Hall parking lot was not a public way, Klaus found a definition in the motor vehicle code that says highway includes any way located on public school property.
A former attorney for the UI, Klaus said the Assembly Hall, ironically, is owned by the UI board of trustees, and is therefore considered public school property.
David Dorris said his wife hasn't touched the horn since the incident.
"She does show some potential for rehabilitation," he said with a laugh. "Her father is a retired police officer. He has told her she should not argue with police officers."