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DuPage Drunken Driving Crusade Pays Off

A DuPage County woman who started a campaign against drunken driving after an intoxicated motorist killed her daughter will receive $1 million in an out-of-court settlement from defendants’ insurance companies, her lawyer said Friday.

Leah Johnson, now an outspoken advocate of stringent controls on drunken driving, said she would use the money to further her battle for safer highways.

“To save lives, you have to fight to be heard,” said Johnson, who is Illinois coordinator for Campaign Against Drunk Driving.

Johnson’s daughter, Laura, 22 and Dina Bell, 21, were killed in a 1985 crash in Carol Stream when Timothy Sullivan, now 30, crossed the center line while driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.  Sullivan was convicted in 1986 of reckless homicide.

Johnson’s settlement does not affect a parallel civil lawsuit filed by Bell’s relatives.

Terrence K. Hegarty, who represented the Johnsons, called the settlement fair, but Johnson said no amount of money could ease the pain of losing her daughter.

The case achieved notoriety in DuPage County after the mothers of the victims and their supports picketed the county courthouse.

Johnson said her daughter still would be alive had the criminal justice system treated Sullivan’s earlier drunken driving infractions more severely.  Moreover, those who were aware of Sullivan’s alcohol abuse problems would have kept him from driving, she said.

The mothers also objected bitterly to Sullivan’s 18-month work-release sentence from former DuPage County Circuit Judge Robert A. Nolan, which they considered far too light.

Sullivan later was caught twice violating the terms of his work-release by drinking alcohol, and he was sent to a state prison.  He was released last summer.