The mother of a Chicago Ridge police officer killed by a wrong-way drunk driver in 2015 is on a mission to ensure that her son’s death will not be in vain.

Lisa Smith has spoken about impaired driving at her son Steven’s alma mater, Richards High School in Oak Lawn; started a Christmas toy drive in his honor and participated in charity walks with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

But she also seeks structural change — like stiffer penalties for DWI offenders and better roadway signage. By state statute, impaired drivers who kill someone are subject to a sentence of three to 14 years behind bars, although a judge can impose as little as probation in “extraordinary circumstances.”

The 22-year-old Bristol woman found criminally responsible in Steven Smith’s death recently received a five-year sentence, which his mother called “a slap in the face.” She believes her son’s death should be treated as murder, and she’s not the only one who thinks impaired drivers responsible for another’s death should be subject to harsher sentences.

To that end, Smith has thrown her support behind a bill making its way through the Illinois Legislature that would permit judges to consider wrong-way driving an aggravating factor when making sentencing decisions in drunk or drugged driving cases.

“From the beginning, since my son passed, I had been wanting to make a change to do something,” Smith said. “His life made a difference. I needed his death to make a difference. I couldn’t just accept the fact that he’s just gone because of a senseless, stupid act.”

Steven Smith, a 27-year-old Marine reservist in his first year as a full-time Chicago Ridge police officer, was killed Sept. 13, 2015 when the car he was a passenger in was struck head-on by a car heading the wrong way on the Tri-State Tollway near Hillside. He was off-duty at the time.

Rep. Michael J. Zalewski, D-Riverside, introduced House Bill 303 in January targeting impaired wrong-way drivers after being approached by Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel about the proposal.

“When law enforcement comes to us as policymakers and says, ‘Hey, look. There’s a flaw in the code and we need to address this,’ we tend to be responsive,” Zalewski said.

While incremental, the passage of HB303 would raise awareness of what advocates such as Weitzel and Canzoneri consider the light penalties impaired drivers receive, and bring attention to their cause: getting people to take impaired driving more seriously and reducing impaired driving fatalities.

“There are a lot of families who feel very isolated and feel that the criminal justice system has let them down,” Canzoneri said. “And we want them to know that they’re not alone, that we’re a sounding board for them.”

Lisa Smith still becomes emotional at the mention of her son — a fun-loving Ohio State football fan who aspired to be a police officer from the time he was in kindergarten.

She’s had a tough time coping with the unrelenting pain that comes with losing a child, but has been buoyed by his former brothers in blue, who consider her family.

Officers frequently stop by Smith’s home, a few blocks from the station, to check on her and share meals, Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski said.

“I’ve never met a better group of people in my life,” Smith said. “They have been my rock.”


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