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Lemont man can’t believe son ticketed while driving him to hospital for heart attack

Michael O’Neil was racing his dad to the hospital for a heart attack when he saw a state trooper in the rearview mirror with his lights flashing.

He thought the trooper was going to escort them to Good Samaritan Hospital in west suburban Downers Grove.

Wrong.

He got a $1,500 speeding ticket. After his dad, William O’Neil, stood behind their Ford Taurus on Interstate 355, he was taken to a different hospital in an ambulance.

The next day, his father underwent surgery and received a stent to fix a blockage in an artery.

William O’Neil, who says the trooper repeatedly questioned whether he was having a heart attack, is furious about how he and his son were treated Sept. 27.

He’s even angrier that Illinois State Police officials have reviewed his complaint against the trooper and found he didn’t do anything wrong.

“If that’s the attitude in general, we all have a problem,” he said.

William O’Neil is furious about how he and his son were treated by an Illinois state trooper on Sept. 27.

William O’Neil is furious about how he and his son were treated by an Illinois state trooper on Sept. 27. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Asked about William O’Neil’s complaint, a spokesman for the state police said: “Mr. O’Neil’s recollection of the events [is] not accurate to what occurred on the officer’s in-car video. The officer’s conduct was proper and within policy during the incident.”

William O’Neil, 60, who lives in Lemont and works as a purchasing manager for a steel distributor, suffered his first heart attack in 2011.

“It was a pain from the shoulder just about down to the fingers,” he said.

He visited a Good Samaritan clinic in Lemont, was told his heart tests were abnormal, and drove to the hospital in Downers Grove. An artery was almost completely blocked and he received a stent.

Four years later, on Sept. 27, he was grocery shopping when, he said, “I got this strange feeling, disoriented.”

He went home, got into bed and “got some pretty wicked” pains in his chest and shoulder. “I told Mike, ‘We’re going to have to go to the hospital.’”

Michael O’Neil, 30, was speeding on I-355 just north of Interstate 55 about 10:30 p.m. when he was pulled over.

“Mike was kind of waving out of his window for the guy to come as soon as possible,” William O’Neil said. “I was just sitting on the passenger side.”

The trooper approached the car on the passenger side, he said.

“So I rolled down the window and he said, ‘What’s going on?’ And I said, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack. We’re on the way to the hospital.’ I said, ‘If you will allow me, I will reach down onto the floor for my bag of medication.’ ”

“So he told me to lift up the bag. I lifted it up and he said, ‘You don’t look like you’re having a heart attack,’ which, you know, um, was pretty rough. I mean, that’s pretty rough.”

He said the trooper went to the other side of the car and asked for his son’s driver’s license.

His son asked the trooper whether he could drive to the hospital, said William O’Neil, who wanted to go to Good Samaritan because that’s where he was previously treated in 2011.

He said the trooper told him he would have to go to the hospital in an ambulance — and his son would get a citation.

“And I said, ‘Call a f—— ambulance.’ Sorry, but I didn’t know what the timing was here, you know,” William O’Neil said.

The emergency responders told him, and then they told the trooper, that his heart readings were abnormal, he said.

“The cop never said anything to me, like pop his head in to say anything,” he said.

Michael O’Neil said the trooper finished ticketing him after his father was taken away.

“The last thing he said to me was something like, ‘You need to slow down next time,’ ” said Michael O’Neil, who was fined $1,500 for going 82 mph in a 55 mph zone.

William O'Neil shows his medical stent information card. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

William O’Neil shows his medical stent information card. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

William O’Neil was taken to Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a heart attack.

“It was a terrible night. I was just going crazy all night because I felt I like, you know, I was very restless, very agitated,” he said.

That morning, on Sept. 28, he underwent surgery for another stent for a blocked artery, hospital records show.

He said he hopes to return to work this week.

He filed a complaint against the trooper after talking to friends and family who encouraged him to do it. He wanted an apology — and to have the trooper fired if he had a history of disciplinary problems.

“We were not a threat,” he said. “If anything, we were an emergency. I think that his approach was terrible, and I think he should be accountable for that.”

But the Illinois State Police found the trooper acted properly, according to Master Sgt. Matthew Boerwinkle, a spokesman for the agency.

State police policy “strongly discourages officers from escorting civilian vehicles in medical emergencies due to the extreme hazard not only to the escorting officer, but also to the occupants of the escorted vehicle and other motorists,” Boerwinkle said.

He said anyone with a medical emergency should call 911 for an ambulance and not drive to a hospital.

“The chances of causing a crash increase significantly during self-transport, because motorists tend to drive erratically and speed excessively during medical emergencies,” he said.

“It would be difficult if not impossible to render effective first aid to a passenger or monitor their medical condition while providing self-transport to a hospital,” he added.

Boerwinkle noted that William O’Neil was taken to a hospital 5 minutes away from the scene, compared with Good Samaritan Hospital, which he says was 20 minutes away. The standard protocol for fire and emergency services is to take patients to the nearest hospital during life-threatening emergencies, he said.

William O’Neil has questioned the ticket the trooper gave his son, who was ticketed for going 26 mph to 34 mph over the speed limit, which carries a $1,500 ticket under a new state law.

O’Neil and his son say they believe they were in a 60 mph zone, not a 55 mph zone, which would significantly reduce the amount of the ticket.

According to published state toll highway rules, the speed limit on that stretch of I-355 changed from 55 mph to 60 mph on Aug. 28.

But according to Boerwinkle, the “posted” speed limit at the location where Michael O’Neil was clocked was 55 mph on Sept. 27.

The Illinois Tollway Authority changed the posted speed limit at the location — northbound milepost 13.1 — on Oct. 1, Boerwinkle said.

“The citation issued to Mr. Michael O’Neil was marked correctly for the posted speed limit on the day of the incident,” he said.

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. [William] O’Neil’s medical condition were unfortunate and understandable to anyone who has had a family member experience the same. We are glad to hear and know that he received medical attention and is doing all right,” Boerwinkle said.