Crime

Former assistant state’s attorney Deb Phillips loses driver’s license after DUI charge

Drunken drivers caused 349 fatal crashes in Illinois in 2017

Police in Illinois issued 2,357 DUIs in 2017 and nationally, more than 1 million DUIs were given to drunken drivers.
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Police in Illinois issued 2,357 DUIs in 2017 and nationally, more than 1 million DUIs were given to drunken drivers.

Former St. Clair County Assistant State’s Attorney Deborah J. Phillips’ driver’s license has been suspended as the result of a crash in which O’Fallon police say she drove her BMW into a building.

According to police, Phillips’ blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was .43, which is more than five times the legal limit.

In a statutory summary suspension filed Aug. 30, the Office of the Secretary of State ordered Phillips, 57, to lose her license for six months, effective Sept. 15.

Phillips was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence on July 31. She also faces two traffic charges of failing to reduce speed and disregarding an official traffic control device.

A summary suspension is a civil penalty separate from a DUI charge. A person can be found not guilty of DUI but still have a summary suspension if they either failed a chemical test or refused to submit to one. A hearing for the summary suspension was scheduled for Tuesday, but was continued at the request of Phillips’ attorney, Justin A. Kuehn.

On Aug. 23, Kuehn submitted an unsuccessful request to rescind the suspension on the grounds that the arresting officer could not prove Phillips was driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that the tests failed to disclose an alcohol level of 0.08 or more, that the tests were not properly administered, that the arresting officer did not properly request Phillips submit to a test and that the officer did not read a “warning to motorist” rights form to Phillips.

Kuehn declined to comment on the case Wednesday afternoon.

According to an O’Fallon Police Department incident report, first responders were called to the scene of Plumbers Supply Company at 6700 Old Collinsville Road around 1:22 p.m. on July 16 in reference to a vehicle that had crashed into the store and a person trapped inside due to falling debris.

The report states that one witness said he saw a car at the intersection of Old Collinsville Road and Salem Place go through the intersection without stopping for a stop sign, hit a car in the left turn lane, go over a curb, drive through some bushes and crash into the walls of the business.

When police arrived, they discovered a black BMW with an Illinois license plate inside the building, with a portion of the business’ northern wall resting on the car. In the report, police officer Daniel Hesselbacher stated that he could smell “the strong odor of burnt rubber” when he stepped inside the store. Witnesses who had been working at the store at the time told police that the BMW’s wheels were still spinning before they shouted at the driver to turn the car off.

According to the report, O’Fallon Fire Chief Brad White, who was the first on scene, told police that the driver, later identified by police as Phillips, was not injured, but would not respond properly to basic questions he asked her.

As White and Deputy Fire Chief Erick Harris began moving debris off of the BMW, Hesselbacher spoke to Phillips through the open passenger door. He stated he smelled the odor of alcohol from inside the car, that Phillips’ eyes were glassy and mildly bloodshot and that her speech was slow and slurred.

Inside the car, Hesselbacher stated he could see a half-empty 750 mL plastic bottle of Gran Legacy Vodka inside a purse in the car. When Phillips got out of the BMW, she was “extremely unsteady on her feet, and she was having a hard time holding her head up,” he wrote in the report.

Phillips was transported to the hospital by O’Fallon-Shiloh EMS, the incident report stated, and when asked how she was feeling, said, “I’m fine, I’m not hurt at all.”

In the hospital room, police told Phillips she was under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. She replied, “But I wasn’t driving.”

According to the report, Phillips thought her husband had been driving the car and was confused as to where he was in the hospital.

In the police report, Hesselbacher states that he read Phillips the warning to motorist around 2:21 p.m. at the hospital. He states that she verbally said she understood the warning, but was unable or unwilling to sign the acknowledgment portion of the form.

At 2:28 p.m., Hesselbacher states he asked Phillips if she consented to providing blood and urine samples for laboratory testing, to which she replied, “Yes, I do.”

An emergency room nurse took the samples, the police report states, and they were returned to police from the laboratory on July 29, two days before Phillips turned herself in.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.
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