A man who authorities say has five DUI convictions has been found not guilty of another drunken-driving charge after refusing to take roadside sobriety tests.
According to the McHenry County sheriff’s deputy who pulled him over for speeding, Thomas Wangler smelled of alcohol, had glassy eyes, was slurring his words and had an open can of beer in his car during the 2016 stop.
He “had absolutely no business operating a motor vehicle,” Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese told jurors.
But lacking evidence of his blood-alcohol content, Wangler was found not guilty Tuesday of aggravated driving under the influence, a felony. Prosecutors said the 54-year-old Algonquin man has at least five prior DUI convictions, with his indictment citing three in Cook County, all in 1990, and two in McHenry County, in 1993 and 2001.
Police in several McHenry County communities pointed to these kinds of cases when they announced last month that they would move to a no-refusal policy. That means that if a driver who is suspected of DUI refuses a breath test, police will automatically seek a warrant for a blood test.
Authorities said they made the move mainly to target repeat offenders who they say know how to game the system by refusing roadside testing, despite the other penalties that can come with that, including a driver’s license suspension.
Wangler, as it happened, was driving with a suspended license during his arrest and was convicted of that offense, prosecutors said. He also has four prior convictions for driving with a suspended or revoked license, also in Cook and McHenry counties, the most recent in 2002, according to the indictment in the current case. He’s due to be sentenced in June.
The officer who arrested Wangler in 2016, Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Bruketta, testified this week that he pulled Wangler over along Route 31 near Crystal Lake because his Cadillac was going 11 mph over the speed limit.
Bruketta testified that Wangler refused to take a roadside sobriety test or submit to a Breathalyzer. He admitted to not having a driver’s license and repeatedly asked the officer to just let him go because he was blocks from his home, Bruketta said.
He said Wangler smelled of alcohol and had “mush mouth” and red and glassy eyes. Wangler told Bruketta that he’d had three drinks that day and became “childish” and “belligerent” as he was driven to the police station, the officer testified.
He said Wangler yelled at him to “get a real job” and to “go get real criminals.” Wangler also accused the deputy of drinking and driving and said that he gets away with it because he “has a badge,” the deputy testified.
Wangler’s defense attorney, Pat Walsh, sought to undermine the state’s allegations that his client showed “obvious signs of impairment.”
He noted that Wangler slowed down after seeing the officer and didn’t weave or show impairment in operating the car before stopping.
“Seeing a cop and slowing down is not the action of an impaired driver … it is the action of every driver,” Walsh said. “ … The cop jumped to a conclusion.”
Walsh also said Wangler pulled over in a safe spot and showed no indication he would flee. With the deputy on the stand, Walsh argued that smelling the odor of alcohol only indicates it was consumed and does not prove impairment.