The fiancée of a Forest Park bicyclist, who was killed last summer in a hit-and-run crash while crossing Harlem Avenue, is fearful that the driver of the car that ran into her betrothed on the night of June 1, 2014 will not serve any jail time.
Joel Mendoza, of Berwyn, is charged with leaving the scene of an accident and aggravated reckless driving for running into 40-year-old Jeffrey Schultz and not stopping. Mendoza’s next court date is April 17 and at that time there will be a conference and a plea deal might be agreed to.
Rachel Decker, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who lives in Florida, was Shultz’s fiancée. Although prosecutors are seeking jail time for Mendoza, Decker says she feels that prosecutors have been preparing her for the possibility that Judge Paula Daleo might not give Mendoza any jail time. She said she has been told that Daleo has said that she doesn’t want to ruin two lives in this tragedy.
“Our expectations are so low at this point that if he got anything I would feel it was a miracle,” Decker said. “I don’t want him to spend his life in jail, but I think he could probably benefit from having some time to actually think about why he would be separated from his family and friends.”
Decker said she would be outraged if Mendoza did not serve any jail time.
“I would feel betrayed by the justice system,” Decker said. “I would feel they have no regard for Jeff’s life; it doesn’t have value. He’s ruined many lives, not just Jeff’s.”
Schultz was riding his bicycle back to his home in the 1400 block of Elgin after watching a Blackhawks game that evening at a bar in Berwyn when Mendoza, driving a blue 2000 Honda Accord allegedly struck Schultz in the 1400 block of Harlem. Mendoza didn’t stop and his car was later found in Berwyn at 15th and Clinton.
“That’s a bad choice; you don’t leave someone in the street,” Decker said.
Mendoza’s lawyer, Edmund Wanderling, said that while he understands how Decker feels, it was simply an accident and that Mendoza was not entirely at fault.
“It was a horrific, terrible, terrible accident,” Wanderling told the Forest Park Review.
Decker said she is suspicious because a second accident reconstruction prepared by the Forest Park Police Department indicated that Mendoza was driving at the speed limit after an earlier report indicated he was speeding.
“My personal position, it’s just my opinion, is that the defense attorney went back and said that they need a certain number, so they went and fudged the numbers or massaged them, shall we say,” Decker said. “All I know is that all of sudden a very new reconstruction came out that very conveniently puts him doing exactly the speed limit when there are witnesses who say very differently.”
Forest Park Police Chief Jim Ryan did not respond to a call from the Forest Park Review asking about the case.
Decker met Schultz, a 40-year-old architect, in September 2013 at the Riot Fest music festival in Chicago, and they became engaged just a few months later.
“I lost my future, my partner,” Decker said. “I miss him every day. I miss him constantly. He had friends all over the country from all walks of life. If you knew Jeff, you liked him.”