Nearly two dozen people showed up Monday morning as a 23-year-old Chester woman was sentenced to probation and community service in connection to a moped accident that killed a 61-year-old Troy man last year.
Thomas J. Layden’s family and friends all had one message for Elizabeth McClure: She killed a great man.
McClure crashed her car into the moped Layden was riding on Sept. 7 on Troy-O’Fallon Road, breaking his neck and causing his death less than an hour later.
She was sentenced for failure to reduce speed on Monday morning in the Madison County Courthouse. In exchange for her guilty plea, the 23-year-old Chester woman was sentenced to a $500 fine, six months of supervised probation, 300 hours of community services and participation in a victim impact panel.
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Layden’s grandchildren, children and widow spoke at McClure’s sentencing hearing before Judge Jennifer Hightower.
“The last memory I have of my dad is him laying on his back, dead, blood coming out of his mouth,” said Christopher Thomas Layden during the hearing. “How dare you take him from us.”
The Layden family plans to start a foundation in Thomas Layden’s name, where they will speak to schoolchildren about the dangers of distracted driving. They are also petitioning the Illinois Department of Transportation to reconfigure the intersection where Layden was killed, and want to toughen the laws against distracted driving.
“To look at your phone, that’s not a felony,” said the family’s attorney, Patrick Johnston of Edwardsville.
The charges McClure faced did not include distracted driving. Even so, the Layden family believes McClure was distracted in her driving that day because there was no indication that she braked before hitting the man on his moped.
Layden’s daughter, Stacy Petry, took the stand to share warm memories of her father mixed in with grief and new feelings of fear for her four children.
“You drove into my dad with such force you broke his neck. Let that sink in for a moment, Elizabeth,” Petry said. “There was no chance for life.”
Petry said her first thoughts at finding out her father had been killed were fears for her children, fear for their safety and that they would find out about the crash before family could tell them.
“I had to get my kids out of school, and I had to get them out quick,” she said. “I watched my children fall apart from the inside out.”
Petry said her children are in counseling and they all have nightmares. They have also “panicked” when anyone had to drive or ride anywhere.
“We’re all targets of drivers like you, Elizabeth,” she said.
Two of Layden’s grandchildren spoke at the hearing as well, sharing happy childhood memories of their grandfather and how he taught them to fish, shoot and make pens. Their words and the letters that Petry read from her 8- and 10-year-old children showed a grandfather who shared special times with each child.
The children also expressed confusion, with one saying her grandfather would never again be at a school or sports function because McClure didn’t follow the law.
Layden’s widow, Jennifer Layden, was the last of the family to speak in the hour-long hearing. She talked of being “ambushed” by thoughts and memories in the last year, as well as the financial and physical upheaval. She said her husband had retired 20 months before his death, and they had spent the time traveling and making plans to travel some more.
Instead, she said, she had to put his funeral expenses on a credit card. Because of his age at his death, the family received half the death benefits expected.
“I left the house we built together, that I couldn’t afford,” Jennifer Layden said. She said she had to downsize and is no longer traveling.
“If Thom had been driving his big Dodge Ram pickup, you would not be here today,” Jennifer Layden told McClure.
“Forgiveness is not in my heart today,” she said, adding that she feels McClure is a “careless, self-centered person.”
McClure spoke directly to the family before the final sentence was read. She repeatedly said “I’m sorry” and cried openly, saying she had thought before the accident that she was a good driver. Used tissues from listening to the family’s grief littered the table in front of her, a man and woman sat behind her.
“I understand you’re angry, and rightly so,” she said after expressing her sorrow and wish that she had “stayed in bed” that day.
She said she thinks of Layden daily, and of Layden’s grandchildren when she sees her own niece.
“I pray for your peace every day,” she said.
It wasn’t enough for Chris Layden after the hearing.
“I appreciate the effort, but what we’ve gone through she’ll never understand,” he said.