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DUI suspect on the run — victim’s family blames politicians

Saul Chavez

Saul Chavez

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Updated: February 5, 2012 8:18AM

A suspected drunken driver charged with killing a pedestrian on a Northwest Side street last year is now on the run — and the victim’s family is pointing the finger at Cook County’s elected leaders.

William “Denny” McCann’s family believes the suspect, Saul Chavez, would still be in the custody of law enforcement — and not a fugitive — if the Cook County Board hadn’t passed an ordinance that the family argues paved the way for the suspect to disappear.

“They f----- up,” Kevin McCann, the victim’s brother, told the Sun-Times. “He [allegedly killed] my brother, and they let him out of jail.”

Chavez, 36, who lists Albany Park and Mexico addresses, was charged with aggravated DUI involving a death, reckless homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death in last year’s hit-and-run death of 66-year-old Denny McCann as the insurance broker was crossing the street in his Logan Square neighborhood.

Witnesses told police the 2002 Dodge Neon plowed into McCann, who hit the car’s windshield, cracking it. When the driver hit the brakes, McCann fell to the ground. But the driver continued on, running over McCann and dragging him about more than 200 feet, Chicago police said.

The driver exited the car and tried to bolt, only to be tackled by two passersby, including an off-duty police officer, before he was arrested.

Days after the June crash, the driver, identified as Chavez, appeared before Cook County Judge Ramon Ocasio III who set bond at $250,000.

If Chavez had a clean record, $250,000 bail would be reasonable, but since he had a previous felony DUI conviction — in fact he was arrested in that case three years earlier just blocks from the 2011 fatal hit and run — and was apparently not documented, the amount was relatively low for deadly drunken driving charges, a veteran Cook County judge told the Sun-Times.

Chavez was sentenced to probation and completed it in February 2011.

Ocasio is “notorious for setting low bonds” so the $250,000 bail is pretty steep by his standards, the judge added.

Still, through the summer and fall, Chavez sat in the county jail. On Nov. 20 his brother scraped together the $25,000 — the 10 percent required to post bond — and Chavez was released. Authorities haven’t seen him since, and court records show an arrest warrant was issued after he failed to show at a Nov. 28 court hearing. His attorney did not return a call for comment.

But the victim’s family believes Chavez would still be in custody if not for the action of the County Board

In the days after Chavez’s arrest, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a “detainer” for him, asking that the county jail notify the agency when the suspect posted bond and to detain him up to 48 hours so agents could pick him up for possible deportation proceedings.

But in September, county commissioners passed an ordinance instructing the jail to ignore the immigration detainers, whether the charges are for misdemeanors or felonies — describing the detainers as requests and not arrest warrants, as a federal court ruled earlier in the year.

Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle championed the measure, saying the detainers sometimes targeted U.S. citizens and became costly as federal agents routinely would ask for the hold and forget about it. Both say they feel sympathy for the McCann family but that this points to problems with setting bonds.

“The ordinance has no bearing on what judges do in setting high or even denying bond, particularly if they think someone is a flight risk,” Garcia told the Sun-Times. Preckwinkle issued a similar statement.

The McCann family has spoken with staff in Preckwinkle’s and Sheriff Tom Dart’s offices as well as Commissioner John Daley, who last fall voted against the measure instructing the detainers to be ignored.

But McCann’s family members say the don’t believe they’ll see Chavez again and the only way to get justice is to reverse the ordinance passed last September.

“Someone dropped the ball, and we’re not going to just let it go,” said Nicole Goins, the victim’s daughter. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to help us and our situation. If we can stop this from happening again, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Northwest suburban who voted against and has loudly criticized the ordinance, says he’ll be introducing an ordinance that calls for the sheriff to honor the detainers of those who’ve committed certain felonies or are on a homeland security watch list.

“What we’re seeing is people making a decision,” Schneider said of the McCann case. “What happens is, they’re determining their freedom is worth more than the bond they posted.”

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