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Chicago-area teen found guilty in crash that killed 5-year-old

A Chicago-area child is dead and a teen may be spending the next 14 years of her life in prison because of a foolish and dangerous decision the young woman made two years ago. The 19-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless homicide just before her trial began. Her two-day trial, therefore, centered on the charge of aggravated DUI. The Lake County judge found her guilty of that crime.

The tragic incident occurred on Labor Day of 2012. The young woman, who had recently spent two weeks in rehab, confessed to "huffing" a keyboard cleaner in her Lexus. She was in the parking lot of a Walgreens where she had just purchased the product. She then hit a woman who was walking with her three children on a Highland Park sidewalk. The crash killed one of those children -- a 5-year-old girl. The mother and the two boys were hospitalized with injuries.

Surveillance video showed the woman on Central Avenue, speeding across several lanes and hitting the family. Some were struck multiple times as the car went back and forth. Witnesses say the driver was unconscious when they got to her.

The lawyer for the defendant, who confessed to police while still in the hospital after the crash, to huffing the keyboard cleaner, had argued that the aggravated DUI charge was not appropriate. He contended that the chemical in the product, difluoroethane, is not one of the 15 intoxicating substances specified in Illinois law. The relevant statute does reference other unspecified substances. However, he said that was too vague a reference on which to base a criminal charge.

The DUI conviction lengthens the amount of time the defendant could spend behind bars from five years to 14 years in prison. However, she is free on bond until her sentencing hearing on July 10. Despite the magnitude of the tragedy, she could potentially receive a sentence of probation. Her attorney may challenge the DUI conviction.

There are too many cases where a person a death through negligence or recklessness but receives a relatively light criminal sentence. Surviving family members can help provide some added sense of justice for their loved one's loss via a wrongful death suit. While it won't add to a person's prison time, it can hold them financially accountable for their actions.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, "Highland Park teen found guilty in fatal 'huffing' crash" Dan Hinkel, Lisa Black and Greg Trotter, May. 29, 2014

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