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Driver guilty in fatal crash tied to nail polishing
By Tony Gordon | Daily Herald Staff

Greg Zaffke II hugs his father, Greg Sr. after reading a statement at the Lora Hunt trial at the Lake County Courthouse Thursday in Waukegan.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Lora Hunt, in the tan jacket, walks in to the Lake County Court Thursday in Waukegan as the jury deliberates her case. Hunt is being tried for the traffic death she was involved in when she was distracted while putting on nail polish.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Lora Hunt

 

Anita Zaffke

 

Lora Hunt's family members leave the Lake County Courthouse after Hunt, 49, was found guilty of reckless homicide.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Greg Zaffke II, son of accident victim Anita Zaffke, reads a statement after Lora Hunt was found guilty of reckless homicide in the May 2, 2009 crash death.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Greg Zaffke II shows the black finger nail polish he wears in memory of his mother, Anita.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Defense attorney Jeff Tomczak discusses the verdict after the Lora Hunt trial at the Lake County Courthouse Thursday in Waukegan. Hunt, 49, was found guilty of reckless homicide Thursday in the May 2, 2009 crash death of Anita Zaffke, 56.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/6/201 1:37 PM | Updated: 5/6/2010 9:07 PM

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A jury of eight women and four men took about 3½ hours Thursday to find Lora Hunt guilty of reckless homicide in the death of motorcyclist Anita Zaffke.

Hunt, 49, now faces up to five years in prison for the May 2, 2009, crash in which prosecutors said she was painting her nails moments before her car plowed into Zaffke's stopped motorcycle at a Lake Zurich intersection.

Hunt showed no visible reaction when the verdict was read, but her attorney said she began to cry and said "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

Zaffke's son, Greg Zaffke, said he was relieved by the verdict that ended the three-day trial.

"There are no winners here, no celebration or happiness," Zaffke said. "Two families will forever carry the anguish and hurt caused by the recklessness of one person."

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel argued Hunt, of Morris, was polishing her nails as she approached the intersection of Rand and Old McHenry roads, where Zaffke, 56, had stopped for a yellow light. Hunt was looking away from the road until the exact moment her car plowed into the Lake Zurich woman at 50 mph, he said.

The proof of that - despite Hunt's claim from the witness stand Wednesday that she put the polish bottle aside as she neared the intersection - was nail polish spilled on the steering wheel and column.

"We know she was still polishing her nails because of the massive and copious amount of nail polish on the steering wheel," Mermel said. "We know she was holding the nail polish bottle when she struck Anita Zaffke."

Defense attorney Jeffrey Tomczak said in his closing argument that although it was wrong for Hunt to be polishing her nails at any time while driving, it was not the reason Zaffke was killed.

Tomczak said three witnesses to the crash agreed with Hunt by testifying there was only one second between the signal light changing from green to yellow and the impact. There was simply no time for his client to stop, he said.

"We have to be realistic about what she was presented with in that one second after that light turned yellow," Tomczak said. "That is what you have to consider."

Mermel said Hunt was guilty of "a conscious disregard for the safety" of Zaffke and others on the road and should be convicted.

"What the defendant did was so beyond the pale of what a reasonable person would do that it rises to the level of a criminal offense," Mermel said. "She was driving down the road at half a hundred miles an hour completely oblivious to the lives and hopes and rights of others."

Tomczak cautioned the jurors to be careful in deciding what is distracted driving - eating a sandwich, lighting a cigarette, yelling at the kids or changing the radio - and reckless driving.

"A reckless person is someone who does not give a care, someone not even trying to be safe," he said. "The fact that a collision results in a death does not make it a crime."

But Mermel insisted Hunt was not looking at the road while she polished her nails, and did not even have her feet properly positioned on the floorboard to react to the stopped motorcycle.

"The defendant was completely out of control," he said. "Her feet were so far away from the brake pedal that she might as well have been making a sandwich in the back seat."

After the verdict, Tomczak said he would assemble a "strong case" for keeping his client out of prison and delivered a personal message from her, who he described as "very, very distraught."

"She said she wants this to be a message to everyone," Tomczak said. "She doesn't want anyone to ever go through this again and prays that everyone will give their complete attention to the road."

Zaffke said his family will urge Circuit Judge Fred Foreman to ban Hunt from driving, and will seek the permanent revocation of her driver's license to serve as an example for other motorists.

Hunt, who is free on bond, will return to Foreman's courtroom June 15 to set a sentencing date.