Suburban Chicago cop pleads not guilty to drunken driving in crash that killed DeKalb woman

The DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office filed reckless homicide and aggravated DUI charges for James M. Corralejo, 25, early Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, following a fatal car crash which occurred on South Seventh Street near downtown DeKalb on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Inset photo provided by DeKalb County Jail)

DeKALB – A south suburban Chicago police officer from DeKalb pleaded not guilty Wednesday to allegations that he drove drunk and crashed his car while off duty last month, killing a 59-year-old woman one block from her home.

Graciela Reza Contreras of DeKalb was returning home from a family birthday party Nov. 5, her daughter Lorena Reza told the Daily Chronicle previously. Reza Contreras was sitting in the back seat with one of her grandsons when James M. Corralejo, 25, also of DeKalb, allegedly crashed into their car.

Reza Contreras suffered what police called “a severe extremity wound” and died from her injuries later that day at a hospital, according to DeKalb County court records.

Multiple family members of Reza Contreras appeared at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore Tuesday to watch as Corralejo pleaded not guilty in front of Circuit Court Judge Philip Montgomery. Corralejo was represented by Aurora-based attorney David Camic.

Corralejo wore a black short-sleeved polo shirt with khaki pants, had short cropped hair, a tattoo on his left forearm and appeared alert and attentive to the judge.

Montgomery asked if he was wearing his court-ordered ankle bracelet which monitors blood-alcohol levels.

“Yes,” Corralejo said to Montgomery, and flashed his right ankle where the black device was affixed.

Corralejo was charged with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, a Class 2 felony, reckless homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. If convicted, he could serve between three to seven years in prison. If convicted of both reckless homicide, a Class 3 felony, and aggravated DUI, he could be sentenced to an extended term of up to 14 years in prison.

Graciela Reza Contreras, of DeKalb, poses with drink in hand in this photo dated May 2021. Reza Contreras was killed in a fatal car crash in DeKalb Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023 allegedly caused by an off-duty police officer driving under the influence of alcohol, police said.

Daniel Regna, a prosecutor in the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office, asked Montgomery for additional time to collect evidence from the Illinois State Police.

“The blood work from the state lab is not back yet,” Regna said. Corralejo submitted to a blood test the night of the crash which could shed more light on whether he was impaired, according to court records.

Corralejo has been out of police custody on pretrial release since Nov. 7 at Montgomery’s order. Prosecutors had objected to his release, arguing he was a danger to the public. Corralejo is not allowed to drink alcohol while he awaits trial.

In a DeKalb police synopsis, officers who responded to the crash alleged Corralejo “showed signs of impairment,” according to court records. He submitted to a breath test which showed a blood-alcohol content level of 0.154%, almost twice the legal limit.

Corralejo is a police officer with the village of South Holland in Cook County, a south suburb of Chicago, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

Corralejo previously told Montgomery he makes about $77,000 per year as a South Holland police officer. He said he lives with his parents in DeKalb.

The South Holland Police Department released a statement at the time of the fatal crash.

“The Village of South Holland expects all employees to hold themselves to a high standard of conduct, even when they are off-duty. The circumstances of this incident appear to fall far short of that, hence an internal investigation is also underway,” the social media statement issued Nov. 8 reads.

The statement did not detail the status of Corralejo’s employment with the department. South Holland Police Chief Shawn Staples did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.

Reza Contreras was remembered days after the crash by loved ones as a doting family matriarch and friend who loved to bake. She was a longtime DeKalb resident who worked at Portillo’s in Sycamore. A GoFundMe campaign raised $10,509 from 185 donations as of Wednesday. The fundraiser was set up by Reza Contreras’ family to help send the grandmother of four and mother of three back home to her family in Mexico.

Corralejo was ordered to appear for a status hearing on the results of his blood tests at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 17.

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