It was a moment of teenage foolishness that had haunted Patrick McNamee for decades.
As a high school senior and wannabe jet pilot in the spring of 1954, the 17-year-old McNamee was behind the wheel of his mother’s brand-new Lincoln Continental, speeding down Route 53 in Lombard, with a pair of buddies along for the ride.
Heading over a bridge on the outskirts of town, McNamee lost control of the car and struck a bridge abutment, killing one of his passengers, 18-year-old Peter Teeling. McNamee, who spent more than two weeks in the hospital after the wreck, was charged with reckless homicide and agreed to plead guilty immediately.
“It was just stupid. Showing off,” McNamee said of the cause of the crash. “A dumb mistake.”
Wednesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner granted the 79-year-old McNamee’s request for a pardon, which will allow McNamee to have the felony conviction removed from his record.
“To tell the truth, I still haven’t gotten over it,” McNamee said. “I don’t think about it every day, but when I do, I get awfully sad.”
McNamee’s case was by far the oldest of eight people pardoned Wednesday by the governor, who also denied clemency requests from more than 200 others, a spokeswoman said.
McNamee would go on to serve in the Marine Corps, thanks to character letters from the judge who sentenced him and the prosecutor who handled his case. McNamee finally became a pilot with the Air Force, flying more than 1,700 mission in Vietnam and winning a slew of medals before spending 29 years as an airline pilot.
McNamee, who now lives in California, said the conviction has seldom held him back in the decades since he finished his sentence of one year of probation. In letters written to the Marines, the judge that sentenced him praised McNamee for being “forthright and honest,” and noted that the charge of reckless homicide was harsher than what McNamee deserved.
The prosecutor also noted McNamee’s clean prior record, and wrote “I believe he’d make a good pilot,” according to records submitted to the state Prisoner Review Board, which oversees the clemency process. In his application for the pardon, McNamee said “I do not wish to finish out my life as a felon.”
McNamee in 2014 was denied a permit to carry a concealed firearm in California because of the felony on his record, which came as a surprise. McNamee had top secret clearance while flying C-130s for the Air Force, even though he mentioned his conviction on Air Force paperwork. The FBI did note that he’d failed to list a ticket for riding a bicycle in Lilacia Park in Lombard.
“This is good news,” McNamee said Wednesday. “It’s been a long time.”