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posted: 2/18/2010 12:01 AM

Teen gets five years plus probation in DUI crash that killed girl

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Kevin Schuh threw himself on the mercy of the court last month when he pled guilty to driving drunk and killing 15-year-old Monika Skrzypkowski.

On Wednesday, in front of a standing-room-only crowd dominated by Skrzypkowski's family and friends wearing yellow roses adorned with yellow and blue ribbons in her honor, the Mount Prospect man learned his sentence: five years in prison for aggravated driving under the influence followed by 36 months probation for failure to report an accident involving an injury or death, which Cook County Circuit Court Judge John Scotillo noted places him under the court's supervision for the next eight years. Scotillo could have sentenced Schuh to 29 years in prison.

"If one person at Hersey High School doesn't drink and drive because of Kevin Schuh, then Monika Skrzypkowski's death will not have been in vain," Scotillo said.

"I'm glad this ordeal is over," said Monika's mother Margaret Skrzypkowski, who held her daughter's last high school photograph while Scotillo imposed the sentence. "I would never wish for anyone's child to go to jail or for anyone's child to be killed."

"This doesn't make anybody happy," added Monika's father, Artur.

The most moving moments of Schuh's 51/2-hour sentencing hearing came during Margaret Skrzypkowski's eloquent, hourlong victim impact statement. She described her daughter as a budding writer and artist, a compassionate, unselfish high school sophomore who lived by the adage: if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all, and who hoped to "make an impact on the world."

Using Monika's own words, Margaret Skrzypkowski described what the teen had determined was the key to life.

"We must accept the good days with the bad," said Margaret Skrzypkowski, reading from her daughter's diary to a tearful gallery while the ashen, red-eyed Schuh sat with his head bowed low.

Asking the 18-year-old Schuh to put himself in their position, Skrzypkowski chronicled in poignant, painstaking detail what she and her family experienced on Dec. 6, 2008. She asked Schuh to imagine his child being hurled into the air and falling to the ground, the breath knocked out of her body, her boots knocked off and her hood ripped from her jacket. She recalled heartbreaking moments at the hospital begging her daughter not to give up, then seeing her lifeless body as doctors ceased their efforts. She told of the decision to donate Monika's organs, which she said her daughter would have wanted. She described the pain of carrying on; the racing heart and nausea that she woke to every day after Monika's death; and how she calls Monika's name in their empty house just to hear it spoken aloud.

"Think about how lucky you are to be alive and be grateful," she said to Schuh. "In her death she will always be part of your life... She is as much a part of your family as our own."

Skrzypkowski rejected defense attorney Barry Sheppard's plea that the court consider Schuh's acceptance of responsibility as mitigation. She requested a severe sentence, which unlike Monika's, will one day conclude with Schuh's release.

"If you had to make a choice between your child dying or going to prison for 29 years, what would you choose?" she said.

A tearful Schuh expressed his regret and sorrow for the Skrzypkowski family's loss.

"There's nothing I can do or say to ever console you," he said.

Apologizing for his carelessness, he said he had learned a hard lesson and hopes sharing his experience with other teens one day will serve as a powerful deterrent.

"It's the only way I can begin to atone for the tremendous grief I've caused you," he said, adding in a choked voice "a parent should never have to bury a child."

The prosecution spent much of the hearing reviewing the facts of the accident, which occurred about 11 p.m. as Monika Skrzypkowski and some friends crossed the street in the 200 block of North Elmhurst Road in Prospect Heights.

Skrzypkowski was waiting for her parents to pick her up from her boyfriend's birthday party when the accident occurred.

Prospect Heights Police Department Cmdr. Al Steffen testified Wednesday that the girl's body traveled 160 feet after she was struck. Toxicology tests indicated she had no alcohol or drugs in her system, he said.

Steffen also described a false police report in which Schuh claimed someone had damaged his mother's car. Steffen described how Schuh's story changed over the course of their four-hour interview. Schuh first claimed he and his girlfriend ate dinner at her house then went for ice cream, Steffen said. Later, Schuh claimed others brought alcohol to the house, Steffen said. The girlfriend eventually confessed to having a party at her house while her parents were out of town.

A 26-year-old acquaintance of Schuh's testified on the night of the crash he had twice purchased large quantities of alcohol totaling $95 for Schuh. The man said he warned Schuh not to drive. Police later recovered two garbage bags of beer cans and cups, a liter of vodka two-thirds empty and several cases of beer with unopened cans.

In his testimony, Steffan described Schuh's demeanor during the interview as nonchalant and unemotional. He said that when he informed Schuh the girl he struck had died, the teenager appeared more concerned about the trouble he was in than about the girl's death.

In his summation requesting substantial prison time, Assistant State's Attorney Mike Clarke pointed to Schuh's lies, his demeanor during his videotaped police interview and the bail bond violation. Schuh was arrested by Mount Prospect police on charges of breaking into cars during the early morning hours of May 15, 2009 in defiance of a court order confining him to his home.

"That speaks volumes," said Clarke, who insisted that Schuh was not a typical teenager who made a stupid mistake.

"Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent," said Clarke, quoting an unnamed source. "I submit that's the case in this case...At some point, enough is enough."

Pointing out Schuh's lack of criminal background, his acceptance of responsibility, his guilty plea - which was against his lawyer's advice and can be used against him in a pending civil case - Sheppard requested the court's compassion and a sentence of probation and boot camp.

In the end, with Schuh facing up to 29 years in prison, Scotillo granted some measure of it.

"What does society deserve?" asked Scotillo, "that the problem of drinking and driving be taken seriously. Until we take it seriously we get exactly what we deserve - tragedies like this."

To that end the sentence must be punitive, serve as a deterrent, protect the public and afford the defendant a chance at rehabilitation, Scotillo said. Eight years monitoring by the court should accomplish that, he said.

"We hoped for better," Kevin's father, Mike Schuh, said of the sentence, "but I think it's fair."