An Update on the Janice and Mark Wendling Bike Fatality Case

A hearing in the case against the driver is scheduled for next month

Janice and Mark Wendling
Janice and Mark Wendling

People from the Chicago bike community have been asking about what’s going on with the case of Janice and Mark Wendling, who were fatally struck from behind while biking near southwest suburban Morris, and why more serious charges weren’t filed against the driver, so I wanted to provide a quick update.

On June 21, Janice, a middle-school math teacher and her husband, Mark, a power plant engineer, were training for an upcoming charity bike ride on Old Stage Road, a two-lane highway west of Morris. As they pedaled down the shoulder of the road around 7 PM, a 16-year-old boy—who happened to be a former student of Janice’s—struck the couple from behind with an SUV.

Mark was killed instantly; Janice was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly afterward. Police concluded that the crash was unintentional, and the teen was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash. Read the Wendlings’ obituary here.

The Morris Herald-News reported that, earlier that month, the boy had been clocked by police doing 87 in a 55 mph zone on I-80 in Joliet. And earlier on the day of the crash, he’d been ticketed for driving 24 to 36 miles over the speed limit in nearby LaSalle County.

And according to the crash report, a witness at the scene told police that the teen threw an object into the woods. The police retrieved a baggie that was found to contain 15 grams of marijuana. The boy told the police that the last time he had smoked marijuana was two days earlier. He was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation and provided urine and blood samples.

Today Grundy County victim/witness coordinator Vicky Surman said that the results of the toxicology tests still haven’t been made public and no additional charges have been filed against the teen at this point. “There’s still a huge investigation [of the crash] going on,” Surman said. “We’re going to address everything when the investigation is finished.” This morning a hearing on the speed violation was scheduled for January 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Grundy County courthouse,” Surman said.

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed in September by the firm Tomasik Kotin Kasserman on behalf of the Wendlings’ sons Ryan and Kevin is slowly moving forward. The names as defendants Tabatha Vandover, the boy’s mother, and Chris Maier, the owner of the SUV, described as a friend of the family in the police report. The report states that Vandover and Maier both joined the teen at the crash site. The eight-count complaint alleges that the driver “negligently failed to keep a proper and sufficient lookout and failed to decrease speed to avoid colliding with the cyclists.”

The complaint also alleges that Maier, who coincidentally is the principal of Morris Elementary District 54, was negligent when he loaned the boy the vehicle. “He knew or should have known that the teenager was incompetent, reckless, and an inexperienced driver,” the lawsuit states.

“This incident was entirely preventable,” said attorney Timothy Tomasik in a statement. “The deaths of these two wonderful parents and people is simply senseless. We are going to uncover every fact regarding this terrible tragedy.”

Reached today on the phone, Tomasik said that one of the two defendants has been served with the lawsuit, and the other is in the process of being served. However, he added that it’s standard procedure to wait for the criminal case to be resolved before moving forward with discovery, the process of sharing information between the parties, for a wrongful death lawsuit.

Asked why Maier lent his SUV to the teen on multiple occasions, despite the teen’s record of dangerous driving, Tomasik said that information should come out during litigation. “That’s a question that everyone wants answered.”

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