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Grieving Staunton parents plead for stricter DUI custody laws for underage offenders

conors law 050217SPRINGFIELD – Conor Vesper was a happy child, a joy to raise, a compassionate friend to all, an animal lover, valedictorian of his high school class, a college biology major on a full-ride scholarship and a young man with a bright future, his mother recalled through tears Tuesday.

“We were blessed and honored to be a part of Conor’s life,” Alice Vesper said, addressing a panel of state senators with her husband, Jack, at her side and surrounded by photographs of their son taken at the family’s home in Staunton.

Conor Vesper’s life was cut short May 23, 2015, following his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. His family and friends are asking state lawmakers to prevent what happened to him from happening to other young adults.

According to news reports from the time and to Senate testimony on Tuesday, 20-year-old Conor Vesper had been arrested in Carlinville early that morning for alleged DUI. He was taken to jail, posted bond and was released.

His blood alcohol level was .124, which impaired his judgement, his parents said. He walked 13 blocks home to his apartment and drove off in his roommate’s car, headed toward Staunton. His erratic driving caught the attention of police from four agencies, who gave chase. Conor Vesper later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Vespers’ state senator, Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), is sponsoring Senate Bill 2185, or Conor’s Law, which would require that anyone under 21 who is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can only be released to the custody of a responsible adult or upon passage of a voluntary breathalyzer test.

“We wish every day that Conor had been locked up that night,” Alice Vesper told members of the Illinois Senate’s Criminal Law Committee Tuesday, but state law allowed him to be released from jail on his own even though he was still intoxicated. “No one could have predicted the dreadful outcome.”

Other states differentiate how police should handle the release of underage men and women who may not be sober.

“This proposal was brought to me about a year ago by Conor’s family as a response to what can only be described as an incredibly tragic situation,” Manar said. “My heart goes out to the Vesper family. They have suffered a tremendous loss and desperately want to prevent another family from going through the same anguish.”

Alice Vesper said she and her husband do not condone drinking and driving, and that they are thankful no one else was harmed the night their son chose to drive under the influence.

But, she suggested, more should be done to protect young adults and the law enforcement officers who must release them from jail when they are in no condition to be on the streets.

“We cannot undo what has happened,” Alice Vesper said. “But Conor would want us to advocate for this law and to see something good come out of this life-changing loss for our family.”

Senate Bill 2185 passed out of the Criminal Law Committee Tuesday evening 11-0.

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