February 23, 2011
Cecil Conner, 23, was driving between 66-73 mph when his Chevy Cavalier crossed the center line, drove across several lawns, ripped down a fence and collided with a large pine tree at about 3:15 a.m. on May 10 on 34th Street in Steger. His blood-alcohol level was later tested at .180, more than twice the legal limit.
Five-year-old Michael Langford Jr., who was sleeping in the back seat, suffered a broken neck and severe head injuries in the wreck. He was unresponsive at the scene and pronounced dead at a hospital later that morning. Michael was the son of Conner’s girlfriend.
Conner had been drinking alcohol at a friend’s home the prior night and into the morning of the crash. His girlfriend, Kathie LaFond, brought her son with her to pick him up late that night. LaFond, however, was pulled over by a Chicago Heights police officer on the way home while Conner was in the passenger seat. She was arrested for driving without a valid license; the car was turned over to Conner at the traffic stop.
Defense attorneys failed to convince jurors that the police officer was solely responsible for the fatal crash and that Conner was blameless when he drove from the scene.
Prosecutors Debbie Mills and Alyson DeBell both pointed to testimony showing LaFond and the defendant failed to tell the officer Conner was drunk. They argued in court the defendant chose to drive for 28 minutes after the traffic stop, which ended at 2:47 a.m., and then chose to speed through the street before causing the one-car wreck that claimed Michael’s life.
“Jurors saw through defense attorneys’ attempt to mislead them from the real issues in this case and placed the responsibility for the death of this innocent child squarely on the head of Cecil Conner,” State’s Attorney Glasgow said.
He continued: “It was Cecil Conner who knowingly drove for a half hour with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit. It was Conner who drove in excess of 66 mph in a 30 mph zone. And it was Conner who recklessly lost control of the vehicle, crashed through a fence, struck a large tree and caused the death of a helpless child.”
The state’s attorney thanked prosecutors Mills and DeBell for first-rate trial work that brought justice in the name of Michael Langford. DeBell is an assistant state’s attorney in the office’s felony division; Mills is the chief of the office’s misdemeanor division, an expert in the area of DUI prosecutions and a member of the state’s attorney’s Special Prosecutions Team.
Conner faces between three and 14 years in prison when he is sentence by Associate Judge Edward Burmila on May 18. A prison term is mandatory unless the judge determines there are extraordinary circumstances that warrant placing the defendant on probation. Prosecutors will argue for a prison term at sentencing.