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Local News

Police report: Teen was driving Morris District 54 principal's SUV during fatal crash

Janice and Mark Wendling
Janice and Mark Wendling

MORRIS – The 16-year-old boy behind the wheel of an SUV that struck a Morris couple as they were bicycling last week was driving a vehicle owned by the principal of Morris Elementary School District 54, according to a traffic crash report.

Mark and Janice Wendling of Morris were riding bicycles westbound about 7 p.m. June 21 in the 4500 block of Old Stage Road when they were struck from behind by an SUV, according to a news release issued the day after the crash by the Grundy County Coroner's Office. Mark Wendling was pronounced dead at the scene and Janice Wendling was pronounced dead later that evening at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan has declined to release the traffic crash report, noting the investigation into the incident is ongoing. Shaw Media has obtained a copy of the report, which Callahan confirmed was accurate.

The crash report states the vehicle driven by the 16-year-old is owned by Chris Maier, District 54 principal, who resides in Seneca.

Messages left Monday afternoon with Maier were not immediately returned.

Janice Wendling was a math teacher in District 54. Mark Wendling worked as an engineer at the Exelon LaSalle County Generating Station in Marseilles.

The report states that the teen told authorities at the scene he did not see the people and didn't remember what happened. The report also notes the teen was joined at the scene by his mother as well as by Maier, who is described as a family friend. Shaw Media is not naming the teen as he is a minor and is not facing charges as an adult. He has been issued a citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

Another person at the scene reported that the driver of the SUV threw something into the woods, according to the report. Police said they found a baggie, which field tested positive as marijuana and later was weighed at 15 grams. The driver told police the last time he used marijuana was two days prior to June 21, according to the crash report.

The driver was taken to Morris Hospital to be evaluated, according to the report. He also provided a blood and urine sample for analysis.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland said his office is waiting for the investigation to be completed before deciding if or what further charges might be filed.

Jerry White, president of the District 54 School Board, said the board is unaware of details of the investigation.

"The Board of Education is not involved in the police or legal investigation of this horrible incident, therefore we have no comment," he said. "The board will continue to help the administration, staff and students through this difficult time."

Interim Superintendent Al Gegenheimer – who will depart the district this week as Shannon Dudek is set to start Friday as the new superintendent – said he can't make any comment but his thoughts and prayers continue to be with all parties involved.

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