Gunderson receives state honor for prosecution of drunk drivers

September 21, 2018

Kankakee County prosecutor Val Gunderson has been recognized for her work in bringing drunk drivers to justice.

Last Saturday, Gunderson was one of only two prosecutors in the state of Illinois to be recognized with the Illinois Heroes Award by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Gunderson supervises the office’s traffic division. She has spent the majority of her nearly 14 years prosecuting traffic cases.

Twenty-eight people from law enforcement, prosecutors and judges were honored during the Law Enforcement Recognition Banquet held in Springfield.

“I am passionate about what I do and looking out for the interests of the victims and their families,” Gunderson said. “I work with a great group of police officers. It is a good team.”

That passion carries over into Gunderson’s prosecuting cases against drivers arrested while their license is revoked or suspended.

“They shouldn’t be out on the roads. It is important to keep the people of this community safe,” she said.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe nominated Gunderson.

“Val is a tremendous prosecutor and asset for Kankakee County. She is fair and, yet, fierce when it comes to removing impaired drivers from our streets,” Rowe said. “Our DUI courtroom once had as many as four prosecutors; she now manages that entire court call in addition to supervising the regular traffic call.

“Most importantly, to me, and what led to my nominating her, is her compassion for victims and those impacted by drunk driving. She wears her heart on her sleeve, but don’t mistake her compassion for weakness — she’s one of the toughest in the county.

Gunderson said she appreciated Rowe nominating her and the selection committee’s decision to name her a recipient.

The event had a local angle in that 2011 Herscher High School graduate Zach Jones is the statewide Project Supervisor for MADD and presented Gunderson her award.

“What he said when talking about me before receiving the award was very heartwarming and very touching,” Gunderson said.

Jones has worked for MADD three years since graduating from Benedictine University.

“Personally and professionally she cares for people,” Jones said. “I definitely am proud she received this honor.”

Jones himself is the victim of an accident in which he was severely injured by a drunk driver in June 2012.

Gunderson prosecuted the case against William Kibbons, of Bonfield. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty.

Kibbons’s blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit when he drove his Chevy pickup head-on into Jones’ vehicle on Illinois Route 17 just west of Kankakee. Jones’ vehicle then struck another before coming to rest in a ditch.

Jones suffered multiple broken facial bones, broken teeth, a facial scar, an injury to his shoulder and a bad concussion.

When he went back to Benedictine he volunteered with MADD. Nearing graduation, he applied for a job with the organization.

“It was the universe talking to me,” Jones said. “You could say one thing led to another. My personal experience led to working with MADD. It allows me to give back.”

Rowe said Jones’ passion for his work is due in large part to what transpired during the prosecution of Kibbons.

“Val was the prosecutor on his case, so after many years, things have truly come full circle for them both,” Rowe said.

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