Suspect in fatal crash driving 128 mph, 3X legal limit

From the Chicago Tribune:

Ciro Reyes Ramirez and his son had only been parked for a moment near the Tinley Park bar they were headed to clean early Tuesday morning, when a car allegedly speeding along Oak Park Avenue plowed into them from behind, he said.

Reyes Ramirez’s 20-year-old son Alberto Reyes, his youngest, was killed in the crash and he was injured. The driver of the other car, Joseph Vorberg, of Oak Forest, was drivingat about 130 mph, with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit, when he crashed into their parked car, prosecutors said.

Vorberg fled the scene on foot after the crash, prosecutors said Thursday at the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview. Police found him 30 minutes later, hiding behind a semitrailer that was parked near a Tinley Park bar, prosecutors said.

Vorberg, 37, of the 15300 block of Arroyo Drive, is facing charges including reckless homicide and aggravated DUI stemming from the crash. A Cook County judge set Vorberg’s bail on Thursday at $1 million.

Judge Peter Felice said Vorberg was a “danger to himself … and to the community,” based on the allegations presented in court.

Data pulled from Vorberg’s Cadillac ATS sedan indicated he was traveling 128 mph just seconds before he smashed into the parked car, prosecutors said.

Alberto Reyes was declared dead at the scene, prosecutors said. His father was treated at a local hospital for injuries that were not life threatening and released.

Vorberg had been drinking at bars in Tinley Park and Harvey before the crash, prosecutors said. He had been treated at a local hospital for his injuries.

A test conducted on Vorberg indicated that his blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit, prosecutors said…

A GoFundMe page has been set up under Alberto Reyes’ nickname, Beto.

Vorberg is also charged with DUI, failing to give aid/information at an accident, improper lane usage and failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Vorberg returns to court Nov. 2.

Not everyone gets 10 days in jail for DUI fatal accidents

The ten day jail sentence that Ryne San Hamel received last week for the drunk driving crash that killed Bobby Cann has sparked outrage (Click here to read the Sun-Times’ editorial).

But don’t think that everyone who drives drunk and kills someone gets a slap on the wrist.

Here is another recent case that had a very different result.  From the Chicago Tribune:

A Mundelein woman was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison Tuesday for the death of a 22-year-old man in an early morning drunken driving crash in Libertyville.

Amanda Auld, 24, was sentenced after pleading guilty last year to one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in a death.

Killed in the crash was Steven Daskaukas, a passenger in Auld’s car when she struck the back of a truck at the intersection of Peterson and Harris roads in Libertyville at 2:43 a.m. on March 7, 2015.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Patricia Fix said she was particularly struck by reports that Auld’s friends, following in another car, had been calling Auld and Daskaukas on mobile phones in an attempt to stop the woman from continuing to drive.

Fix noted that Auld was speeding, leaving the second car unable to catch up with her.

Auld admitted in a statement to the court that she and her friends had been drinking heavily at two bars and had left a bar in Fox Lake when the crash occurred.

Auld apologized to Daskaukas’ family, saying she knew no words would make up for the loss, but that he had been her best friend and that “living through that accident is my very own life sentence.”

“You will never know what it’s like to watch your best friend die and walk away unharmed,” she said.

Auld said she takes “full responsibility for the part I played” in the crash, but also asked for a probationary sentence that would allow her to go into a formal treatment program to battle long-term alcohol, substance abuse and mental health issues.

But Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Brown said Auld had been given supervisory sentences in the past that were to involve treatment programs and she failed to complete them.

Fix also noted that point in handing down the sentence, saying that although Auld had begun treatment programs and courses while in jail, it was hard not to believe her plea for treatment was an attempt to avoid prison.

Auld’s sentencing followed her guilty plea to the charge in a negotiated deal in which other charges were dismissed, including reckless homicide, and a cap of eight years was put on the sentence she would receive. Without the cap, she would have faced up to 14 years in prison, or probation if the judge found that the case included extraordinary circumstances.

Read the whole story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-county-news-sun/crime/ct-lns-dui-death-sentencing-st-0201-20170131-story.html

Former Space Shuttle Commander charged in alcohol related fatal crash

halsell

Former Space Shuttle Commander James Halsell, Jr. has been indicted on charges of reckless murder in the (allegedly) alcohol related fatal crash that caused the death of two children, Jayla Parler, age 12 and Niomi James, age 11.

jamesparler

The incident occurred on June 6, 2016 in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.

Here is a link to the police report.  Halsell’s vehicle allegedly was traveling at a very high rate of speed and rear-ended and crushed the other vehicle.  The investigating officer wrote that Halsell admitted drinking wine at a motel, but did not remember leaving the motel.  He had slurred speech, dilated pupils, disheveled clothes, smelled of alcohol, appeared confused and had unstable balance. A search of his motel room found an empty wine bottle and an empty sleeping pill bottle. The reports do not indicate if a blood alcohol test was taken.

A civil lawsuit has been filed by the parents of the victims.

“I do not deserve to be breathing the same air as all of you,” says fatal DUI crash defendant at sentencing

From the Chicago Tribune, story by Steve Schmadeke:

The mother of a promising University of Chicago Law School student sobbed Thursday as she talked in a Cook County courtroom about how a crash caused by a man driving the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive while drunk had forever changed two families’ lives.

Judith Wasil’s son, Michael, 24, suffered traumatic brain injuries, while his friend Laura Anne LaPlante, 26, also a U. of C. law student, was killed. Both were three weeks from graduation from the prestigious school.

“Certain truths that I had always taken to be self-evident were instantly shattered,” said Wasil, whose son did not attend the hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. “We were no longer a normal, happy family. My son was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to machines and fighting for his life. My family had suffered one of the worst tragedies a family can experience.”

The defendant, Erik Johnson, sat with slumped shoulders looking shellshocked as Wasil spoke. He briefly appeared to lose his composure and fight back tears as Assistant State’s Attorney Geraldine D’Souza read a statement from LaPlante’s parents wishing Johnson’s family well…

Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated DUI and was sentenced to eight years in prison as part of a deal worked out with the approval of both victims’ families. He must serve a minimum of nearly six years in prison.Johnson, at the time of the crash a recent Loyola University graduate who had been out drinking with co-workers, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.195 percent, about 2 1/2 times the legal limit.

His SUV, being driven south in the northbound lanes on a twisting curve of Lake Shore Drive near Navy Pier, smashed into a taxi carrying LaPlante and Wasil shortly before 2 a.m. in early May 2014. The impact knocked both into the taxi’s windshield. The driver, the only one wearing a seat belt, suffered a broken elbow.

Calling it “a heart-wrenching tragedy of the worst kind,” Wasil’s mother said the massive injuries at first left her son unable to swallow, eat, drink, walk, talk, read or write. He has recovered physically except for a pronounced limp, she told Judge William Lacy, but his brain injury “continues to be problematic” and is “essentially a life sentence.”

Wasil has difficulty even forming sentences, according to an attorney for the family…

Moments before the judge handed down the sentence, Johnson, now 25, apologized for his actions.

“I do not deserve to be breathing the same air as all of you,” Johnson told the courtroom. “I wish this senseless act had killed me alone because of my own mistake.

“I was brought up in a moral and ethical household where we were taught to respect life and a person’s free will,” he said. “No one in my family ever committed a crime, no one in my family ever hurt anyone. But in one night I lost complete control over everything I’ve ever been taught and everything I’ve ever believed myself.

“I have single-handedly taken away the life of a young woman already great but destined for greater things,” Johnson said. “I am devastated to think of what I have taken from you.”

Johnson, who vowed to work to prevent drunken driving after his release from prison, kept his eyes downcast as a deputy sheriff led him from the courtroom.

Read the full story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-lake-shore-drive-crash-law-students-met-20160204-story.html

Cook County Hospital Exec gets 100 days, probation for DUI fatality

Under Illinois statute, a person convicted of a DUI that causes the death of a person is facing a sentence of a minimum of three years imprisonment, up to 14 years, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances” which require probation.

Stroger Hospital executive Robert Vais must be very grateful today to his attorney and for Judge Nicholas Ford, who found extraordinary circumstances in his case, enough to warrant a sentence of only 100 days of jail and probation for a DUI fatality case which took the life of former U.S. Marine Hector Avalos.

According to news reports, the Judge considered Vais’ clean criminal and driving history, his accomplishments as a Cook County Hospital executive, and his remorse for his actions.

I’m sure the Judge also considered that the victim was riding a bike, wearing dark clothes, and had just exited a viaduct when he was struck from behind.  Vais had a BAC of 0.118, which, while it is over the “legal limit” of 0.08 and is more than enough to impair an individual, is not an extraordinarily high BAC level (the average person charged with a DUI in Cook County has a BAC of 0.18).

From the Tribune:

Judge Nicholas Ford said he had to take into account that Vais had no criminal background, hadn’t fled from the accident scene and could again become a productive member of society.

“If I sentence him to 14 years in prison, would that be any worse than … every night when he closes his eyes, his last thought is that of causing the death of a Marine?” Ford asked.

“What Hector’s family has gone through is a thousand times worse that what (Vais) has gone through. To the mother whose life has been affected forever, you have my heartfelt sorrow for what you’ve gone through.”

Avalos’ mother nodded as Ford handed down his sentence. Later, she seemed at peace with the judge’s decision.

“He’s got a new beginning,” she said of Vais. “I hope he takes advantage of it.”

 

Carly Rousso sentenced to 5 years for “huffing” DUI fatality

roussocourthouseBreaking news from Lake County:

From the Chicago Tribune (story by Dan Hinkel and Susan Berger):

Highland Park woman was sentenced to five years in prison for running over and killing a 5-year-old girl after abusing inhalants.

Carly Rousso, 20, remained calm as she was sentenced to 5 years in prison for reckless homicide and 4 years in prison for aggravated DUI. The sentences are to be served together. She stands to serve about 3 ½ years for time off for good behavior.

Outside the courtroom, Rousso’s mother, Gabrielle Rousso, hugged supporters, wept and repeatedly said of her daughter, “She is so scared.”

Through an interpreter, Tomas Santos de Jesus, father of 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, said he is unhappy with what he saw as a light sentence.

“Her life was taken away in a horrible way,” the interpreter said. ..

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Rousso to eight years in prison, while defense attorneys requested probation or, failing that, the minimum prison sentence…

On Wednesday morning, prosecutors and defense lawyers worked to present two distinct narratives for Judge Booras’ consideration.

Prosecutors spoke of a heartbroken family and a young victim cut down unexpectedly. Rousso’s lawyers presented their client as a troubled young woman who made a horrific mistake after using substances to numb her own traumas.

Before a courtroom packed with media and supporters of both the defendant and the victim, Assistant State’s Attorney Stella Veytsel read statements written by Jaclyn’s parents, who sat silent near the front. Her mother asked in her statement for the longest prison sentence possible…

“Seeing my daughter killed in front of me is something I cannot put into words,” the girl’s mother, Modesta Sacramento Jimenez, said in the statement.

“It has left a painful void in my life,” she said.

Sacramento Jimenez said she didn’t expect to ever forgive Rousso; she hopes God will, she said.

Called to the stand by defense lawyers, Rousso’s father, David, wept as he described his daughter as a loving person who has matured in the last two years.

“She’s an extraordinarily wonderful human being who made a terrible mistake,” he said…

Public sentiments in the high-profile case have been colored by race and class, with the defendant coming from a prosperous family and the victim from a Hispanic family of modest income. Rousso’s lawyers have noted she is adopted and her biological mother is Mexican-American.

Rousso’s sentencing hearing was unusual in that the defense called multiple therapists who confirmed what her lawyers have contended – that Rousso suffered childhood miseries, the effects of which lingered even after years of professional help arranged by her parents. They said Rousso’s traumas included her adoption, rejection by her peers, bullying, her rape as a teenager by an acquaintance and a pit bull attack that disfigured her face and left her with some 400 stitches…

After the pit bull attack disfigured her face, David Rousso said, kids made fun of her appearance.

One of her therapists, Heather Keith, said Rousso was hospitalized multiple times after the crash out of concern for her safety. She reported feeling suicidal, Keith said. Prosecutors asked questions that elicited answers noting that Rousso continued using alcohol and inhalants while she was free on bond after the crash.

Rousso’s past diagnoses have included major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which therapists said were linked to her traumatic childhood. Keith said it is common for people suffering PTSD to use intoxicants to try to escape their pain.

I am not very comfortable second-guessing sentencing.  But typically a case like this would result in a sentence closer to the range that the prosecutors were seeking than the probation sentence Rousso’s attorneys were seeking, or even the five year sentence that she received.  This is not a typical case, however, in that the defendant is a young woman with no background and with issues of her own (which she has worked on and not tried to use an excuse, merely an explanation for her conduct).  That much was obvious when the judge did not take her into custody immediately after finding her guilty.  That he let her remain on bond had me thinking that he was seriously considering probation.

Clearly, Rousso’s attorneys helped her cause tremendously by presenting evidence of her depression and treatment, as well as her remorse for her actions.  I am speculating, but I also suppose that her attorneys counseled her to make serious changes in her life and helped orchestrate sympathetic press events like the one I posted a few weeks ago where she spoke to young people about how her attempts to escape her problems by inhaling cleaning fluids lead to a young girl’s death.

Five years is a comparatively light sentence for what she did.  But it is still a very significant sentence, especially for a 20 year old who has never been in prison before.  I hope that Jaclyn’s family will find some peace, and I hope that Carly is able to use this experience to transform herself into something better.

Try to remember this before you drink and drive

The Aftermath (WSVN-TV)

The Aftermath (WSVN-TV)

Today, I represented a pair of clients who had been charged with DUI.  According to the breath tests, both were over twice the legal limit.  Luckily for them, they had not hurt or injured anyone or themselves.   And because it was their first offenses, I was able to resolve their cases without jail or license revocation.

But sometimes, drinking and driving doesn’t lead to such a neat resolution.  Sometimes it destroys lives.

And this story, about a young woman named Karlie Tomica, and the man she killed, Stefano Riccioletti, is as good of an example of how a night of partying can have repercussions that will be felt for decades and decades.

From the NY Daily News:

Karlie Tomica was arrested Tuesday morning after being pulled over by cops who had received a call around 6 a.m. that the reckless 20-year-old had hit a man outside a Miami Beach restaurant.

The man, a locally famous chef named Stefano Riccioletti, flew about 30 feet in the air following the impact of Tomica’s 2007 Dodge 4-door. Medical personnel pronounced him dead on the scene…

Jairo Fuentes, who witnessed the whole incident, followed Tomica, as she sped back to her apartment, and called 911.

“Someone just got hit by a car and the car kept going and the guy hit is laying on the concrete and is not moving,” Fuentes told the emergency operator.

“I’m actually just following a car that just hit a man on Collins Avenue. As far as I know, at this time, she must have killed him,” Fuentes continued, according to NBC Miami.

“The lady is really drunk, she just came out of the car,” he added. “She’s outside the car; she’s really drunk.”

Cops arrived soon after Tomica got to her home in the Mid-Beach neighborhood of Miami and took her into custody. At the time of her arrest, Tomica reportedly was slurring her speech, reeked of alcohol and wasn’t able to walk straight. She also refused a sobriety test.

Tomica was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident but was released 8 hours later on $10,000 bond.

Ms. Tomica, who according to news reports is 20 years old (and therefore not legal to drink alcohol) liked to tweet.  On her twitter profile she called herself the “party princess” who was “living the dream.”  Her last tweet before this accident was on January 20th, when she tweeted “Good things are coming my way!!and I couldn’t be more happy” How wrong she was.

tomicaHer tweet before that was “God I love bartending” and in several other tweets she claimed to be drinking.  Again, she was underage.

The man she killed, Stefano Riccioletti, was a locally famous chef, who had worked at top restaurants in New York and Miami.  He was married and had three children, who will likely struggle to understand how it is that their lives could be so devastated by someone so young and foolish.

As a father and husband, I feel for Mr. Riccioletti and his family.  How unfair is it to have your life taken away in an instant by some complete stranger?

And as a human being, I feel sorry for Ms. Tomica.  She is 20 years old and was expecting an exciting and happy future.  And she could have had it, if only she had called a taxi instead.

So before you get behind the wheel when you know you shouldn’t, think of Karlie and Stefano.