A woman who set off a chain-reaction accident that killed a motorcycle-riding
couple and injured other bikers was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison.
Alia Bernard, 27, turned to tell her parents and fiancé that she loved them before dissolving into tears as she was handcuffed and taken into custody.
Earlier, she told Kane County Judge Allen Anderson that she had reached down for her sunglasses before looking up and trying, but failing, to avoid the accident.
In December, Bernard, of Aurora, pleaded guilty to aggravated driving under the influence for the May 23, 2009 accident near Batavia that killed Wade Thomas, 44, and his wife, Denise Thomas, 45.
Wade Thomas was driving the motorcycle and his wife was a passenger. The couple was among several dozen cyclists out for a holiday weekend ride to Wisconsin.
The line of riders was northbound on Route 47 near Smith Road when Bernard, driving south, plowed into the tail end of the third of three cars car stopped in the road and waiting for the cyclists to pass so the first car could make a left turn.
The force of the collision shoved one of the stopped cars into the path of the cyclists.
“It was just mayhem,” testified Walter Elliott, one of the riders that day. “Bikes were exploding.”
Bernard took the witness stand Wednesday, and for the first time gave her account of the events.
She spent the previous night with a boyfriend who had called her unexpectedly after they had been apart for several months. She was on her way home and was upset because she felt the boyfriend had rushed her out of his house that morning.
She said the sun glinting off her car and the motorcycles made it difficult to see.
“It was just the sunlight,” she said, when her lawyer, Bruce Brandwein, asked what caused the accident.
Although she pleaded guilty to a felony DUI charge, Kane County First Assistant State’s Attorney Jody Gleason and Brandwein agreed that Bernard was not under the influence.
However, she had used marijuana two days before the accident, and she tested positive for the residue in her system.
“It was a terrible tragedy, but she was not under the influence,” argued Brandwein, who asked for probation.
But the judge said probation would minimize the loss of life.
“Ms. Bernard did not intend to do harm, but you did do harm,” the judge told her.
Wade Thomas’ daughter, Amanda Thomas, 24, of Batavia, said afterward that she was satisfied with the sentence.
The Thomases had married – the second marriage for both -- just a year before they died and had nine children between them.