Despite deadly crash, victims might not get the justice they want

The U.S. legal system consists of many different courts. Two of the most prominent are the civil system on one hand and the criminal system on the other. The criminal justice system recognizes that there are actions that cause harm to society. The civil system acknowledges that negligent actions may cause harm to individuals.

At times, the same elements of a case can spark action in both systems. That’s true in Indiana and every other state. Some might think this is some form of double jeopardy. Most legal experts would likely agree that the availability of the dual system merely serves the demands of justice. This comes to mind in light of a case involving a truck accident that left five people dead.

It happened in July 2014. According to details of the case, an Indiana-based driver of a semitrailer truck was driving north on Interstate 55 in Illinois. Authorities say he had his cruise control set at 65 mph and that he crashed into a row of slow-and-go cars in a construction zone. Five people in three cars died. Three children were injured.

Survivors of the victims filed at least two personal injury suits against the driver at the time, citing evidence that he had underreported the number of hours he had been on the road. Illinois authorities also charged the man with multiple counts of reckless homicide and falsifying his driving records.

How the civil cases played out isn’t clear as this is written, but last November, the driver pleaded guilty to reduced criminal charges, and this week a judge sentenced the 53-year-old man to 10 years in prison. Accounting time served and the possibility of parole, he could be free in less than three years.

In issuing the sentence, the judge said he hoped it provides closure to survivors and communicates to truck drivers that they need to follow safety rules.

The son of one the victims indicated his support for the sentence, but it might fall short of the hopes of others. The daughter of one victim was quoted in 2014 expressing the hope that the driver would never drive a truck again. Whether that will happen is not clear.

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