CHICAGO — The Logan Square man accused of plowing his truck into a group of picnickers two years ago is asking an appellate court to throw out the state’s attempted murder case against him because he already pleaded guilty to a traffic ticket that he received at the scene, and he’s now being subjected to double jeopardy.
Timothy Nielsen, 59, pulled his truck next to a group of people having a birthday celebration picnic in the parkway on the 2900 block of Logan Boulevard in May 2021 and complained about the group’s dogs, prosecutors allege.
Instead of driving away as the group asked, Nielsen drove his Ford F150 onto the grass, running over the group’s bikes, chairs, and a YETI cooler that jammed under the truck, stopping it from advancing, Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto said during Nielsen’s initial bail hearing.
A woman became trapped under the truck, too, she said. A second victim suffered minor injuries when the truck struck them as they tried to get out of its path. Two other victims ran out of the way.
When members of the group yelled at Nielsen that a woman was trapped under his truck, he continued to try to accelerate — but the YETI cooler foiled his efforts.
“But for that YETI cooler…this may be a very different case,” Scaduto said.
A Chicago police officer gave Nielsen a ticket for reckless driving and arrested him to face charges of attempted murder and aggravated battery.
About seven months later, Nielsen reached a deal with prosecutors to resolve the traffic ticket. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving in exchange for a two-day jail sentence, time that he had already served.
Now, his lawyers are arguing that the state’s attempted murder and aggravated battery case, which is still pending, amounts to unconstitutional double jeopardy.
“The State continues to pursue the charges of Attempt Murder and Aggravated Battery … even though Mr. Nielsen has already pled guilty to Reckless Driving, based on the exact same conduct,” an assistant public defender and a specially-licensed law school senior wrote in a motion to dismiss last year.
The attorneys argued that the reckless driving and other charges “should have been joined in a single prosecution” and continuing with the attempted murder and aggravated battery prosecution is a violation of the U.S. and state Constitutions, which stipulate that “an individual may not be placed in jeopardy twice for the same act.”
“Mr. Nielsen has already served his time for the act of reckless driving into a group of people,” his lawyers wrote, adding that Nielsen had “already been convicted of Reckless Driving, sentenced to jail, and punished for the same acts that form the basis of the charges in the [attempted murder and aggravated battery] case.”
Prosecutors countered that the state does not have to join traffic offense matters with criminal charges. And they cited another appellate court case that found “the legislature did not intend ‘that a driver could plead guilty to a traffic offense on a traffic ticket issued by a police officer and thereby avoid prosecution of a serious offense brought by the State’s Attorney.'”
Judge Shelley Sutker-Dermer sided with prosecutors and denied the defense motion. Nielsen’s lawyers have taken the case to the state appellate court.