BLOOMINGTON — A Normal woman whose daughter's death is under investigation by police asked a judge Friday to reconsider her prison sentence on aggravated drunken-driving charges.
On Jan. 11, Anntionetta Simmons was sentenced to two years and six months after failing to follow the terms of her probation on a 2015 aggravated driving under the influence charge stemming from a head-on collision on East Empire Street in which Simmons was driving the wrong way.
Two weeks after she went to prison, Simmons' 8-year-old daughter, Rica Roundtree, was taken to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and transferred to a Peoria hospital where she died. Authorities have not released the cause of the child's death, but confirmed in early February the death is under investigation. She was a third-grade student at Prairieland Elementary School in Normal at the time of her death.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said this week the probe is ongoing while Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood expects a final autopsy report soon in the investigation that includes multiple agencies.
On Friday, Judge William Yoder denied a defense motion to reduce Simmons' sentence to one year. Defense lawyer Jonathan McEldowney explained that Simmons is serving a concurrent sentence of two years and six months on an unrelated forgery charge she pleaded guilty to after the Jan. 11 sentencing.
A reduction in the DUI sentence would allow Simmons to participate in prison programs and increase her chances of qualifying for good conduct credit on her forgery sentence, said McEldowney.
In a Feb. 28 letter to Judge Casey Costigan asking him to reconsider the sentence on the forgery charges, Simmons referenced the death of her daughter.
"I've had a month to press the pain to power that I will use to create change. Her death is under investigation and I have faith in the system that failed her ..." Simmons wrote.
The mother said she wants to return to her son who was placed in foster care before her sentencing.
"With his sister's death, I need to hold him, assure him life can work both ways. I need him to know what justice feels like because we've already known so much injustice," Simmons wrote.
The Department of Children and Family Services said Friday it received complaints of alleged abuse related to the child after she was placed with her father. Those complaints were unfounded, said DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitlow.
"DCFS is deeply saddened by the loss of Rica Roundtree. DCFS' involvement with Rica began in 2014 while she was living with her biological mother and continued after she was removed from her mother's home and placed with her biological father. During her time with her father, DCFS conducted multiple investigations into allegations of abuse and found these allegations to be unfounded," said the DCFS statement.
Noting the ongoing investigation, Whitlow said, "we are committed to understanding exactly what happened in this case and being fully transparent with the public."
At her Jan. 11 sentencing, Simmons outlined the progress she'd made since she left an abusive relationship. The efforts to secure a job and housing led to her putting her drug treatment after-care on the back burner, she told Yoder.
Yoder agreed to amend Simmons' sentencing order to recommend her for substance abuse treatment in prison.