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Motorist in Cari Cook death pleads guilty to traffic charges at early hearing without Cook family present

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The motorist charged with two minor traffic offenses resulting from an accident in which a young Countryside mother was struck and killed May 19 while crossing 47th St with her two small children pled guilty Monday to both charges in Cook County Circuit Court in Bridgeview.

But family members and friends of Cari Cook, the 29-year-old woman who died in the accident, were not in attendance when the motorist, Mary McPhillips, 45, of Chicago, pled guilty at a traffic division hearing before Judge Maureen Feerick for failing to exercise due care for a pedestrian and improper lane usage.

Although the Cook group, numbering about a dozen, arrived in time for the scheduled hearing at 10:30 a.m., McPhillips and her attorney had arrived earlier and persuaded the judge to conduct the hearing during the court's 9:00 a.m. session.

La Grange Police Chief Mike Holub today said officers planning to attend the 10:30 hearing also were not informed of the switch.

In response to McPhillips' guilty pleas, Judge Feerick assessed her court costs and granted supervision, according to John Kenney, the village prosecutor, who was present at the hearing. Kenney said he did not recall that any additional fines were imposed and explained that supervision involves a period of time during which a motorist must maintain a clean driving record or face further court action. He said he also did not recall how long a period of supervision was ordered by the judge.

The hearing concluded and McPhillips departed before the group arrived at the courthouse, Matt Cook, Cari's husband, said today.

Cook said he others in the group were "extremely disappointed" at missing the hearing.

"We were denied the closure that the family really needed," he said. "It is what we really expected to have, some closure. We wanted to be there to support my wife and close the door on this chapter."

Kenney said that traffic court operates under different rules than those used in criminal cases, where a victim's family has the right to express their feelings and concerns before a sentence is meted out.

Although McPhillips was found responsible for Cook's death, she was not charged with any criminal counts in the accident. An investigation by state, county and village police determined that McPhillips had not acted in reckless or negligent manner resulting in Cook's death, Kenney said.

Nonetheless, Matt Cook said he is troubled by a legal system that addresses traffic violations without taking into account the full scope of the tragedy that resulted. "The traffic violations may be minor, but a loss of life is not," he said.

Court supervision is not adequate, Cook said. But he was at a loss to suggest might further penalties should have been imposed.

Asked to comment on what McPhillips told the judge upon entering her guilty pleas, Kenney said that her demeanor was "serious" befitting the occasion. But Kenney said he did not hear any expressions of remorse from McPhillips regarding Cari Cook's death.

"If she did say something it was out of my earshot," Kenney said.

McPhillips' guilty pleas likely open the door for a civil lawsuit seeking compensation related to the accident. Matt Cook today declined to comment on whether further legal action was planned.

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Cari Lyn Cook (Stevens)
(1978-2009)

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