May 5, 2009 — -- A woman whose car struck and killed a 56-year-old suburban mother on her motorcycle in an Illinois suburb last weekend may face criminal charges after telling police she had been painting her nails at the time of the accident.
The driver, Lora Hunt, 48, told police that she was doing her nails when a traffic light turned from green to yellow and that she had not seen motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, who was stopped at the light, until "contact was already made."
Zaffke died from multiple internal injuries and a spine fracture, according to the county coroner, who said that while her helmet did protect her head, there was "nothing it could do when she was thrown 200 feet."
Assistant State Atty. Patricia Fix told the Chicago Tribune that it could be a month until they decide whether Hunt will face additional charges.
"We are looking into charges in the case," Fix told the paper. "But we are waiting for results of blood and urine tests and waiting for the results of an accident reconstruction, as well as any other technical evidence we can derive from the scene."
Sgt. Chris Thompson of the Lake County Sheriff's office said distracted driving is "fairly typical" behavior for motoristsl.
Thompson said responders at the scene in Wauconda, Ill., discovered the interior of the car and the deployed airbag covered with red nail polish.
Thompson said that he often sees drivers doing all sorts of distracting activities while in motion.
"It's not just painting nails," said Thompson. "It's putting make up on the face, texting, and people playing around with radios and dialing on their cell phones."
An April 2006 research report on distraction and crash factors released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most recent data of its kind, found that 70 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved "some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event."
Drivers who used cell phones while driving were found to be the most distracted, according to the report.
Applying makeup while driving increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by three times.
Just last month, a New Jersey couple was awarded half a million dollars after suing a driver who rear-ended and injured them in 2004 because she was distracted by doing her make-up.
And in September 2008, a witness to a car accident in Benton County, Ind., reportedly told police that they had seen the driver "primping in a mirror" before her SUV crashed into a dump truck, causing a fatal crash that threw her 5-year-old daughter out of the vehicle.
Reading also tripled the chances of an incident. Looking at an external object did so by more than three times and dialing a hand-held device by almost three times.
"This is an absolute grim reminder about how vigilant and attentive you have to be while driving," Thompson said. "Unfortunately our victim paid the ultimate price in this case."
Hunt, who is a registered nurse, was ticketed with failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident but was not arrested, police said.
Messages left at Hunt's Morris resident were not immediately returned.
Hunt's attorney, Ragan Freitag, said that she had not yet seen a copy of the police report and could not comment on whether her client had been doing her nails at the time of the crash.
Hunt is "very distraught" over the accident, said Freitag.
"Like anyone that gets in a car accident she's completely upset," said Freitag of Hunt. "She's a devote Christian and is getting help from family and friends and her church right now."
Freitag said Hunt, who is a mother of five and a grandmother of six, "definitely has prayers going out to this family."
Greg Zaffke, the victim's son, told WLS that he was in "disbelief" over his mother's death.
"We went up to the intersection, just went up and down, to try to see how this could possibly have happened," he said.