1985 Bears Coverage: Ditka guilty of drunken driving

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Ditka guilty of drunken driving

Andrew Herrmann

Originally published Nov. 8, 1985

Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka was found guilty today of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Ditka, appearing subdued during the 20-minute trial in Schaumburg Circuit Court, was sentenced to a year of court supervision and fined $300. He also must attend at least 10 hours of driving school. Ditka had pleaded not guilty.

Don H. Reuben, the coach’s lawyer, offered a tricky double defense. On one hand, he argued, Ditka doesn’t consider himself above the law, and on the other, he hadn’t broken the law.

“Mr. Ditka does not want anyone to believe he got any preferential treatment because his team is 9 and 0,” Reuben told the judge. About a dozen spectators in the courtroom burst into applause.

The maximum drunken driving penalty for first offenders is a year in jail, a year’s license suspension and a $1,000 fine, said Guy Chipparoni, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

The judge had noted that Ditka’s previous Illinois driving record was clean.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Earl B. Hoffenberg replied, “From our standpoint, this is just another case on the docket.

“But it really isn’t. You are a well-known public figure.” The judge reminded Ditka that one of the leading causes of death among young people is drunken driving and said, “You have a great deal of influence over young adults.

“When Mike Ditka talks, people listen,” Hoffenberg declared as he urged the coach to lecture youth groups about the dangers of drunken driving.

“Your honor,” the Bears coach assured him, “I’ve been speaking on these things for several years.

Outside the courtroom, Reuben blasted the State Police for what he called a deliberate leak of the arrest report, which allegedly states Ditka was abusive to the arresting officer.

Reuben said the State Police “had handcuffed and trussed Ditka like a chicken. People should not be treated like felons when they are not.”

Asked if his client was abusive to the arresting officer, Reuben said, “I suspect anyone would be cantankerous if they were handcuffed.”

Ditka was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding and improper lane use Oct. 14 as he drove north along the Tri-State Tollway from O’Hare Airport. He was returning from a Bears victory over the defending champion San Francisco 49ers at San Francisco.

In a sworn statement read into the record by prosecutors, Illinois State Police Trooper Jesse Armstrong said he spotted Ditka switching lanes erratically, tailgating other vehicles and doing 63 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone.

The officer said Ditka’s speech “was slurred and his breath was strong with alcohol.”

Ditka refused to take a breath test, a decision that could cost him a 6-month suspension of driving privileges under the law.

The suspension will be considered in court Feb. 14. The speeding and improper lane use charges also were continued to that date.

Under the court supervision provision of his sentence, Ditka is required to keep his driving record clear of further drunken driving arrests. Were he to be convicted of the offense again within the year, the court could issue a further penalty for the original conviction.

Reuben, attorney for the football team, told Judge Hoffenberg that Ditka was not guilty of the offenses, but said contesting the drunken driving charge would require testimony by members of the Bears team, a move that “would disrupt the season.”

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