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Woman denies she was polishing nails when crash occurred
By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff

Lora Hunt


Anita Zaffke


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Published: 5/5/2010 5:26 PM | Updated: 5/5/2010 5:28 PM

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Lora Hunt testified Wednesday she was looking at the traffic signal, not polishing her fingernails, when she crashed into a motorcycle and killed Aniti Zaffke.

Hunt, 49, is on trial for reckless homicide in Lake County Circuit Court for the May 2, 2009 crash at Rand and Old McHenry roads in Lake Zurich.

Prosecutors claim Hunt was polishing her nails when she plowed into Zaffke's stopped motorcycle at 50 mph.

Hunt, who sobbed through most of her testimony, admitted she had polished one or two nails before her approach to the intersection, but said she put the bottle away as traffic picked up.

"I had only done a couple and it was getting busy and I thought I can't do this anymore," she said. "And I set the brush back in the bottle."

Hunt said she set the bottle down on the dashboard of her Chevrolet Impala and was concentrating on the traffic around her, which she said included a pickup truck directly in front of her in the right lane.

Earlier in the day, Howard Ohren of Lake Villa testified he was driving a pickup truck behind Zaffke's motorcycle in the right lane on Route 12, but moved into the left lane as he approached Old McHenry.

Hunt said she looked up at the traffic signal, saw it turn from green to yellow and was still looking at the light when the impact occurred.

"All of a sudden I heard a big crash, my air bag went off and I could hear noises up above and underneath (her car)," she said. "I kept trying to stop the car; I kept slamming and slamming and it just would not stop."

Once her vehicle stopped, Hunt said her instincts developed from 15 years as a registered nurse took over.

"I ran to her and I got on my knees and I looked in her eyes," Hunt said. "I said oh my God, oh my God, but I've seen death before and she was already gone."

Hunt said she had decided to work on her nails because her hands were messy from gardening she had done that day with her grandchildren.

Hunt said she was on her way to visit another daughter who planned to take her out to dinner.

"Now it sounds really dumb to say this, but I was looking for a safe way to do it," she said. "I kept looking up and down at first to make sure I could still see."

Accident reconstruction specialist Roger Barrett testified earlier in the day that his study of the crash convinced him Hunt was polishing her nails as she approached the intersection.

Barrett said he focused on the description Hunt offered on her activities just before the crash in a written statement she gave sheriff's police.

"There was a stop light approaching and it had just turned yellow. I was distracted by applying fingernail polish," the statement reads. "When I glanced up, I was hitting a two-wheel motorcycle driven by a female."

Barrett said Hunt's statement that she "glanced up" to discover she was running over the motorcycle meant only one thing to him.

"The only logical conclusion I can make is that the driver of the car saw that the light had turned yellow and she went back to polishing her nails," he said. "The reason she did not see the motorcycle was that she was looking down polishing her nails."

But on the witness stand, Hunt said she used the term "glanced up" to describe what she did to look in the rearview mirror as she started to hear the sound of the impact.

On cross examination, Hunt admitted to Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel that she questioned her decision to paint her nails.

Mermel pointed out Hunt had testified she wanted to make sure "she could keep her car on the road" while she was polishing her nails, and asked if that meant Hunt already knew it would not be safe to do so.

"I knew harm could come to me if I did it," she said. "I never thought that harm could come to someone else.

Closing arguments in the case are expected today.

If convicted, Hunt could face up to five years in prison but would also be eligible for probation.