Crime & Courts

Appeals court tosses Spring Grove man’s sentence in fatal 2016 DUI crash

Illinois Appellate Court upheld, however, Ryan J. Heineman’s 2019 conviction while sending the case back to McHenry County for post-trial matters

The case of a Spring Grove man convicted in a fatal 2016 drunken-driving crash will be sent back to McHenry County for post-trial matters following a recent appellate court opinion.

The McHenry County judge who presided over Ryan J. Heineman’s case should have allowed the man to substitute his attorney before his 2019 sentencing hearing, according to the Sept. 30 appellate court opinion.

In April 2019, Heineman asked to replace his trial lawyer with a new attorney, who he claimed was better versed in post-trial proceedings. Now-retired McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather denied the request, however, calling it a “delay tactic.”

The attorney whom Heineman hoped to represent him at the sentencing hearing – Raymond G. Wigell – was allowed to join the case as co-counsel, but didn’t have sufficient time to review the trial transcripts, Heineman argued on appeal. The appellate court ultimately upheld Heineman’s conviction but vacated his six-year prison sentence.

The case will return to McHenry County on yet-to-be-determined date for post-trial matters, which could include a new sentencing hearing.

Wigell died earlier this year, according to an online obituary. The Homewood resident and longtime attorney was 72 years old.

Heineman, 39, remains in custody at the Western Illinois Correctional Center, where he is serving prison time in connection with the death of former McHenry woman Tanya McDonough.

A McHenry County jury convicted Heineman on Feb. 25, 2019, of aggravated driving under the influence stemming from the crash that killed McDonough on her 33rd birthday and injured Heineman.

McDonough and Heineman, who were neighbors, had guests at their separate homes for a birthday celebration on June 25, 2016. The party carried over into the early hours of the morning when one of McDonough’s relatives said she received a confusing phone call.

Heineman allegedly told the family member about 3 a.m. that he had been in a crash but he wasn’t sure where he was. At trial, the relative testified that she could hear a woman screaming in the background of the conversation. McDonough’s family called the police after searching for Heineman’s vehicle without success.

About 6 a.m., a passing driver discovered the wreck and alerted authorities, who found Heineman in the woods near his vehicle, police have said.

Heineman did not call 911 after the crash and previously told officers and hospital staff that he only remembered waking up in a ditch next to McDonough’s body, witnesses testified at trial.

Several people who attended the party that day said a group of people left to search for McDonough when she allegedly took off on foot after an argument with her fiancé.

Once they found McDonough, Heineman allegedly drove her a short distance back to his home before witnesses said she left again with Heineman only moments later.

Because no one saw Heineman in the driver’s seat of the vehicle when it took off the second time, Heineman’s trial lawyer, Martin Lascola, said it could have been McDonough or another partygoer driving Heineman’s Jeep. The woman’s family, however, claimed McDonough did not have her license and was “petrified” of driving.

Questions of who was at the wheel when as well as the accuracy of the method used to determine Heineman’s blood-alcohol content also were raised on appeal but were unsuccessful.

Illinois Appellate Court Justice Liam Brennan, however, argued that the case should have been granted a new trial, in part, because there wasn’t sufficient evidence proving Heineman’s whole blood-alcohol concentration, Brennan wrote in his dissent.

The higher court’s opinion hasn’t yet been filed with the McHenry County Circuit Clerk’s Office. Once that happens, the case likely will receive a status date within a matter of weeks, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.

Kenneally had not read the opinion as of Tuesday, he said.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.