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Local

Will County claims fraud against teen driver who killed 2 in Grundy County crash

Will County seeking to vacate plea agreement in separate case involving teen driver

MORRIS – The investigation into a vehicle-bicycle collision that left two Morris residents dead is ongoing, according to Grundy County officials, but new developments are unfolding in a separate case involving the teen driver who struck the victims.

About 6:50 p.m. June 21, Mark and Janice Wendling of Morris were riding bicycles westbound in the 4500 block of Old Stage Road when they were hit from behind by a 16-year-old who was driving an SUV owned by District 54 Principal Chris Maier, according to crash reports. The Wendlings both died as a result of the collision.

The teenager was issued a citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident; he is not being named because he is a minor and has not been charged as an adult.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland said the case was in court Monday, where it was continued for another status hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 26.

"The state's attorney office is waiting for the sheriff to conclude the investigation to see if further charges are warranted," Helland said.

"There is no toxicology results yet, we are still waiting," Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said. "The reconstruction of the accident is complete but we need the lab results to finish."

However, other action is being sought in Will County against the same teenager in an unrelated case.

According to court documents, the minor was ticketed in Will County at 8:03 p.m. June 4 while driving east on Interstate 80 approaching Center Street in Joliet for driving 87 mph in a 55 mph zone.

The minor's lawyer, who online court records list as being Ryan Wharrie, negotiated a plea agreement with the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office where in exchange for his plea of guilty during a June 28 court appearance, the teenager would be sentenced to 12 months supervision, pay $450 in fines and costs, and attend traffic safety school, according to a motion filed Tuesday that seeks to vacate that agreement.

Charles Pelkie, spokesman for the Will County State's Attorney Office, said the office was not aware the teenager had other charges pending in other counties when the agreement was reached.

Beyond the Morris case, the minor also was ticketed June 21 – the day of the collision in Grundy County – in LaSalle County on a charge of speeding 26 to 34 mph over the limit.

The Will County State's Attorney's Office on June 23 obtained a driving abstract from the Illinois Secretary of State prior to the June 28 court date and there were no convictions or supervisions on the teenager's record, according to court documents.

Pelkie said when the judge asked if there was anything in aggravation – including issues such as additional charges or a criminal record – Wharrie was silent. When the judge then asked if there was anything in mitigation – or anything good about the defendant – the minor's attorney waived comment.

The Will County State's Attorney's Office filed a motion Tuesday that asks a judge to vacate the plea based on the defense committing fraud against the court.

The motion notes that at the time supervision was requested, "Defendant had already been charged with two additional and entirely separate traffic offenses, one of which involved the death of two people who had been riding their bicycles on the side of the road."

The Will County State's Attorney's Office is now asking for the plea to be vacated and wants to seek a conviction for the Class B misdemeanor, which could bring up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

"Our position is that they committed fraud and there is case law to back us up," Pelkie said. "Had we known charges were pending in Grundy and LaSalle counties, we never would have accepted the plea agreement."

A call to Wharrie was not immediately returned Tuesday.

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