“I said, ‘Oh, my God, as an elected official, I’m going to be crucified for this.’”
Naperville Township Trustee Paul J. Santucci said those were the words he thought to himself and, apparently, muttered under his breath last month, as a downstate police officer was taking him into custody on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol.
The 48-year-old Aurora resident and father of three said he was driving home after attending a conference of township officials in Springfield when he exited a highway in Bloomington, parked his car outside a Walmart in neighboring Normal and rested his eyes for a few minutes.
“I had half a beer at dinner” several hours before the early-morning Nov. 13 encounter with the Normal patrol officer who concluded he was drunk, Santucci said Wednesday morning during a telephone call to The Sun.
“I was not under the influence,” Santucci said. “Basically, I was just overtired (after) burning the candle at both ends” from the previous weekend’s hectic schedule, which included his participation in a soccer function and various charitable events, capped off by attendance at a Chicago Bears football game, he said.
Assistant Normal Police Chief Kirk Ijams on Monday would only confirm the date, time and location of Santucci’s arrest, and that he was charged with driving under the influence and ticketed for driving without insurance and driving with an expired registration.
A source familiar with the case told The Sun Santucci identified himself as being “a state-elected official from Naperville,” and told the police officer it would be unwise for him to “mess with” Santucci.
“Absolutely not, not remotely near any truth,” Santucci said. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, as an elected official, I’m going to be crucified for this.’”
“I did say I came from a conference downstate, essentially saying to myself, ‘This is not going to be good,’” Santucci said of his conversation with the officer. “So if someone heard that, or said they’d heard” he misrepresented himself or threatened the officer, “they were grossly misrepresenting what happened.”
“My mistake was, when I pulled over, it was about 11 o’clock at night” on Nov. 12, Santucci said. “I thought I would just rest my eyes, maybe go into Walmart, use the restroom, get some soda, get some caffeine.”
“I was awakened by a police officer,” Santucci continued. “I was honest and told him I had only half a beer and I was trying to get home from a conference, and he did not believe me.”
“When we got to the Normal police station, he was sitting there with the breathalyzer machine,” which measures a motorist’s blood-alcohol level and determines whether or not a driver is legally intoxicated. “I said, I just don’t feel right about this, and that I would wait for a trial with my attorney.”
Refusal to submit to a breath test under Illinois law is grounds for an automatic, six-month suspension of driving privileges. Santucci said he was unfamiliar with that law at the time of his arrest, and “in hindsight, I should have blown the breathalyzer.”
“I have a very clean driving record, so this has just been a very hard lesson for me,” Santucci said. “I should have made a better decision at that moment and taken the breathalyzer.”
“It’s all very ironic. I’m not a big drinker. I drink on very few occasions. I’m an adult with three children.”
“It’s beyond my realm,” Santucci said of his arrest. “I’m an unfortunate kind of victim of those people, because the laws are so harsh.”
Santucci since 2008 has been secretary of the Naperville Township Republican Organization’s executive board.
He is a communications consultant, a licensed real estate broker and a certified soccer coach.
He also has served as a volunteer with or member of numerous civic organizations, including the Wheatland Athletic Association, Loaves & Fishes, the Naperville Rotary International and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Santucci is free on $100 bond and scheduled to appear Tuesday in McLean County Circuit Court.