Crime

Driver in crash that killed roller derby mom had at least 40 prior tickets

The Mitsubishi driven by Samatha Miller received heavy damage when it was hit from behind by a Chevy pickup driven by Steven Willis of Maryville. Miller, standing outside her car after it had a flat tire on Interstate 55, also was hit by the pickup. She suffered fatal injuries.
The Mitsubishi driven by Samatha Miller received heavy damage when it was hit from behind by a Chevy pickup driven by Steven Willis of Maryville. Miller, standing outside her car after it had a flat tire on Interstate 55, also was hit by the pickup. She suffered fatal injuries.

A Maryville man accused of driving drunk in a crash that killed a mother of three had racked up at least 40 traffic citations since 1994, none of which ended up on his driving record.

Samantha Miller, 27, of Swansea was killed Oct. 23 as she and her three children were stranded beside Interstate 55 when her car broke down. The car that struck her and her vehicle on the side of the road was driven by Steven L. Willis, 38, of Maryville, who police believe was intoxicated.

Willis is charged with two counts of aggravated DUI in connection with the crash that killed Miller. The more serious charge, aggravated DUI causing death, carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

But this wasn’t Willis’ first brush with the traffic laws. Court records show that he has received 40 traffic citations since 1994 in Madison and St. Clair counties alone. Of those, at least 25 were for speeding, sometimes as much as 30 mph over the speed limit.

Willis, who is free on bond, did not return a call seeking comment.

In nearly every one of his traffic cases, Willis received court supervision as a sentence. Illinois law allows drivers to pay a fine and opt for court supervision in certain traffic offenses, which means that as long as they do not get ticketed again within a set period of time, the charge does not appear on the driver’s permanent record as maintained by the Illinois Secretary of State. The amount of time is usually 90 days, according to the Madison County Circuit Clerk’s office.

Thus the only citation actually appearing on Willis’ public driving record as of this week is the criminal felony with which he is currently charged, according to Beth Kaufman, spokeswoman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. Any charges more than four years old or that were granted court supervision do not appear on a driver’s public record, Kaufman said.

Willis was released from the Madison County Jail on Tuesday after $20,000 in cash was posted for his bond.

Willis has received court supervision as a sentence 29 times in Madison and St. Clair counties, sometimes within days of each other. In 1998, he was charged in Madison County on Oct. 8 with driving more than 31 mph over the speed limit, and was charged again on Oct. 22 in St. Clair County with driving 16-20 mph over the limit. Both cases ended in court supervision.

Already that year, Willis had been charged with speeding and operation of an uninsured vehicle, which were dismissed; and had received court supervision on a seatbelt violation and another speeding ticket for driving 16-20 mph over the limit. And he would get another ticket before the year was out for squealing tires, for which he also received court supervision — a total of five supervision sentences in one year.

Kaufman said that was prior to a change in the law, enacted in January 2006, which limited eligibility for court supervision to drivers who had not received it within the last 12 months. At the time, Secretary of State Jesse White said there had been a “small percentage” of Illinois drivers receiving court supervision more than a dozen times a year. In fact, in 2004, 128 drivers received court supervision six times in a single year.

Since the change in the law in 2006, Willis has been cited 10 times. Of those, one charge of passing an emergency vehicle was dropped. He received court supervision on eight speeding tickets, ranging from 10 to 30 mph over the speed limit. He had only one conviction: a seatbelt violation in 2007. But Kaufman said offenses such as seatbelt violations would not appear on the public record.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said that for traffic citations that do not require a court appearance, drivers can mail in their fines and opt for court supervision automatically. “It doesn’t come before a judge or get reviewed by a prosecutor,” Gibbons said. That was the procedure Willis had followed for at least the last two tickets he received in Madison County, Gibbons said.

There’s another limitation in the system, Gibbons said: One county might not know what’s going on in another.

“One of the limitations we have in our court computer system, which hopefully we will eliminate, is that we don’t have the ability to see charges outside Madison County,” Gibbons said. “If you’re getting court supervision in multiple jurisdictions, there’s a lack of shared information.”

One of the limitations we have in our court computer system, which hopefully we will eliminate, is that we don’t have the ability to see charges outside Madison County. If you’re getting court supervision in multiple jurisdictions, there’s a lack of shared information.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons

If the driver appears in front of a judge or prosecutor, the prosecutor can at least review the local court records, Gibbons said.

“Unfortunately we don’t have the benefit of a unified information system on traffic and criminal offenses,” Gibbons said. “That would be a great benefit to our work.”

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said on at least one 2013 ticket, Willis could have mailed in his ticket but instead appeared in court with an attorney and received court supervision. “Thousands of traffic tickets do not have an appearance requirement and are mailed in with payment,” Kelly said.

According to the sworn report turned in by the arresting officer last week, Willis’ breath test at the crash scene showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, which is above the 0.08 percent threshold for a DUI. That test is not admissible in a criminal court, but a blood test also was taken under a court order, and toxicology results are pending, according to Gibbons. He said it is possible there will be additional charges filed later.

According to the officer’s statement, Willis refused further testing, resulting in an automatic suspension of his license. The arresting officer wrote that Willis had admitted to having “a few beers” after work.

Willis could not be reached for comment. Court records show that, as of Friday, an attorney had not yet entered an appearance on his behalf. He was released from the Madison County Jail on Tuesday after $20,000 in cash was posted for his bond.

“This is a person whose prior record leaves us unsurprised by the decisions he made that night,” Gibbons said. “It’s a very sad thing.”

This is a person whose prior record leaves us unsurprised by the decisions he made that night. It’s a very sad thing.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons

Miller’s three children, ages 3, 6, and 8, were in her car when it was hit. They were taken to a hospital for treatment and were released in the days following the crash. Katie Robbins, a friend of the family, said the family members are upset and are declining to speak to the press for now.

Friends and family created a GoFundMe page for burial expenses of Miller, who was a military veteran, and for care of the children. As of Friday evening, it had reached $12,540. A memorial service was Wednesday for Miller.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

Steven Willis traffic citations

  • 4/25/94: disregarding stop sign, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 10/3/94: driving 26-30 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 5/15/95: failure to reduce speed, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 6/2/96: driving 11-14 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 1/28/98: operation of uninsured vehicle, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 1/28/98: driving 1-10 mph over limit , charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 5/4/98: seatbelt violation, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 7/30/98: driving 16-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 10/8/98: driving without a license, charges dropped, Madison County
  • 10/8/98: driving 31+ mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 10/22/98: driving 16-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 11/19/98: squealing tires, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 3/30/99: driving 11-15 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 5/13/99: squealing tires, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 6/15/99: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 2/16/00: driving 11-15 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 8/7/00: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 7/12/01: driving 16-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 7/23/01: improper turn signal, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 9/13/01: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 11/14/01: operation uninsured, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 12/10/01: squealing tires, court supervision, Madison County
  • 3/6/03: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 6/16/03: squealing tires, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 9/18/03: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 1/13/04: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 4/29/04: seat belt violation, convicted, St. Clair County
  • 6/23/04: disregarding traffic control device, charge dismissed, St. Clair County
  • 7/08/04: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 10/21/04: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 3/6/07: seatbelt violation, convicted, St. Clair County
  • 4/28/07: amended to driving 1-10 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 4/11/08: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 4/11/08: improperly passing emergency vehicle, charge dismissed, Madison County
  • 7/14/08: driving 26-30 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 2/17/09: driving 11-14 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 12/14/10: driving 15-20 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 3/16/11: driving 11-14 mph over limit, court supervision, Madison County
  • 5/13/13: driving 21-25 mph over limit, court supervision, St. Clair County
  • 7/21/14: following too closely, court supervision, Madison County
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