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Woman painting fingernails while driving convicted in motorcyclist’s death

Distracted Driving

A woman who was painting her fingernails while driving and smashed into motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, killing her, has been convicted of felony reckless homicide, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports.

Lora Hunt, 49, reportedly showed no emotion when the jury read the verdict after deliberating a little more than three hours on May 6. The trial lasted two days.

Hunt, a nurse, faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced next month.

Zaffke, 56, was killed when Hunt, who police said admitted she was painting her fingernails at the time of the crash, smashed into the back of Zaffke’s motorcycle at a stoplight in Lake Zurich, Ill., about 40 miles north of Chicago, on May 2, 2009.

At the trial, Hunt testified she had stopped painting her nails before the fatal crash. Her defense lawyer argued Hunt’s actions were negligent, like eating a sandwich or talking on a cellphone in a car, and not reckless, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Mermel, who prosecuted the case, argued that Hunt acted recklessly, the newspaper said.

"It is not the same as biting a sandwich. …It’s a voluntary disablement," the newspaper quoted Mermel as saying. "She might as well have been in the back seat making a sandwich."

Greg Zaffke II of Wauconda, Ill., the victim’s son, told WGN News following the verdict: "There are no winners today. There is no celebration or happiness. Two families will forever carry the hurt and anguish caused by one person’s reckless actions behind the wheel."

After the fatal crash, Zaffke began painting his fingernails black as a reminder to anyone he meets of his mother’s death. And he formed the Black Nail Brigade Foundation Against Distracted Driving (BlackNailBrigade.org) to publicize the dangers of distracted driving, push for legislation to impose appropriate penalties for distracted drivers who seriously injure or kill others, and to boost awareness to share the road with motorcycles.

He told WGN News that the Black Nail Brigade efforts transcend his mom’s death.

"I love my mom, but I understand that. There are other loved ones dying," he said.

"On behalf of the AMA and its members, I want to express our sincere condolences to Ms. Zaffke’s family," said Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. "This episode puts into stark relief the tragedy that can result from distracted driving, and we hope that our efforts and those of Greg Zaffke will help avoid further tragedies."

In 2009, the AMA adopted a formal position statement that endorsed enhanced penalties for those who injure or kill others while operating a motor vehicle when distracted or inattentive operation is involved, with the goal of preventing motorcycle crashes from occurring in the first place. To read the AMA’s position statement on distracted and inattentive driving, go to AmericanMotorcyclist.com/legisltn/positions/distracted.asp.

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