A driver who was painting her fingernails when she struck and killed motorcyclist Anita Zaffke tearfully apologized Thursday before she was sentenced for triggering the deadly 2009 traffic collision.
“I want the family to know how deeply sorry I am for my actions,” 49-year-old Lora Hunt said, looking across the Waukegan courtroom at Zaffke’s relatives. “Not a day goes by that I don’t cry and feel their pain. I wish I could embrace this family and tell them personally how sorry I am.”
Her apology, though, didn’t spare Hunt time behind bars: Lake County Judge Fred Foreman sentenced her to 18 months of periodic imprisonment, then ordered her to be taken into custody immediately.
The sentence will keep her in the Lake County Jail at night, though allow her to be free during the day to work, receive medical care or mental health counseling and perform community service.
But Hunt, a nurse from Downstate Morris, isn’t working now — so she will spend virtually all of her time in the jail, authorities said.
Defense attorney Jeffery Tomczak, who had sought probation for Hunt, was dismayed by the term imposed.
“He maxed her out on incarceration,” Tomczak said of Foreman’s sentence. “I only wish Judge Foreman would have considered more of her good deeds.”
Hunt wept as she was taken into custody, telling her husband, adult children and extended family: “I love all you guys.”
She was convicted in May of reckless homicide and faced up to five years in prison for slamming into Zaffke’s motorcycle at a traffic signal on Route 12 and Old McHenry Road.
But Hunt, who had a clean driving record before the crash, also was eligible for probation.
Prosecutor Michael Mermel asked for the maximum prison term, noting that Hunt admitted to police following the May 2, 2009, accident that she had been “distracted” because she was painting her fingernails as she drove.
“Because the defendant wanted pretty nails, Anita Zaffke had to die,” Mermel said as he asked for a prison term.
Zaffke’s relatives said they were satisfied with the punishment imposed by Foreman.
“We feel it was an appropriate sentence,” said her son, 32-year-old Greg Zaffke II, adding that family were pleased that Hunt will not walk away from the deadly crash without having to spend time in custody.
“It’s not probation and it’s not community service,” he said, sporting black nail polish to honor his mother.
Greg Zaffke was less impressed with Hunt’s apology and the good wishes she offered toward his family.
“My problem is I can’t hug my mom,” he said. “That’s the missing link here.”
Zaffke’s husband, Greg Sr., said he didn’t doubt the sincerity of Hunt’s apology. But the elder Zaffke said he still wanted Hunt held accountable for the death of his wife of 35 years — a woman he described in court as “my soul mate, my best friend, the best part of my life.”
“It’s a void no one is going to be able to fill,” Greg Sr. said after the sentencing.
Hunt initially told police she had been painting her nails as she approached the intersection where she struck the 56-year-old Zaffke. Nail polish was found spattered inside her car, including on the airbag that deployed and helped prevent Hunt from suffering serious injuries in the crash.
However, during her May trial, Hunt testified that she stopped painting her nails as she approached the intersection but didn’t see Zaffke in front of her because she was watching the traffic signal change to yellow as she approached.
“I was not still painting my nails,” Hunt said during her trial. “I was looking at the yellow light.”
Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before convicting her of reckless homicide for causing the collision.
In imposing his sentence, Foreman decried what he called an “epidemic” of distracted driving that has motorists paying little attention to the other drivers around them.
“In our society, distracted driving has become an epidemic,” Foreman noted, adding that he hopes the notoriety surrounding the case might help discourage motorists from driving while performing other tasks.
“If we can get that message out of this tragedy, maybe something positive can come out of this,” Foreman said.
Foreman also placed Hunt on 30 months probation and ordered her to perform 240 hours of community service.