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updated: 11/4/2011 6:24 PM

Former South Elgin man gets prison for injuring Hampshire couple

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  • Eric Barth, a former South Elgin resident, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for a December 2010 alcohol-fueled crash that severely injured a Hampshire couple. He could have gotten up to 12 years in prison.

      Eric Barth, a former South Elgin resident, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for a December 2010 alcohol-fueled crash that severely injured a Hampshire couple. He could have gotten up to 12 years in prison.

 
 

A former South Elgin resident was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for a drunken collision in December 2010 that severely injured a Hampshire couple.

Kane County Judge David Akemann also recommended state prison officials consider allowing Eric Barth, 22, to enroll in a boot-camp program.

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Barth, who lives in Ohio, had a blood alcohol content of .27, more than three times the legal threshold, when his pickup truck crossed into oncoming traffic on Plank Road and hit two vehicles Dec. 29. He pleaded guilty in July to felony aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, causing great bodily harm.

Robert Wehrle sustained a broken leg and neck. His wife, Heike, suffered broken ribs, a broken wrist, a collapsed lung and severe internal injuries, requiring multiple surgeries.

Akemann considered, prior to sentencing, what Barth said in jailhouse recordings of his telephone conversations with his mother and girlfriend, in which he said he was angry the Wehrles hadn't forgiven him and characterized the Wehrles' testimony as rambling.

"I confess to a somewhat uncomfortable feeling when listening to a conversation between a person and their mother or their girlfriend. I imagine a young man (in jail) would need a way to vent," Akemann said.

Barth could have been sentenced from probation to 12 years. Prosecutor Steve Sims requested seven to eight years in prison, and no boot-camp recommendation, saying Barth wasn't "worthy" of it.

Akemann cited Barth's youth, and his strong family support, in making his sentencing. Barth's mother testified Friday that she and his stepfather would let Barth live with them if he was allowed probation.

Barth testified that before the collision, he had been drinking with about 10 other people in Burlington. He did not recall how many beers he had. He said he prays every night for the victims of the collision.

"Please allow me the opportunity to become the productive citizen of society I once was," he asked the judge. Barth used to volunteer for the Kane County Office of Emergency Management.

The prosecution had introduced the recordings at the last hearing to show Barth was not truly remorseful. On one tape, Barth talked with his mom in early October and said he thought testimony from the victim, who owns show dogs, was "stupid." In a spring conversation with his girlfriend, Barth insisted he was "fine to drive" the night of the crash.

Six months before the Kane crash, Barth had been charged in Ohio with driving under the influence of alcohol. He has a conviction for underage drinking, and had received supervision on a misdemeanor case of criminal damage to property, in which he damaged shrubbery while deliberately spinning a vehicle in a parking lot.

Barth's stepfather, Michael Litwin, testified Barth worked as a welder at a Caterpillar plant in Aurora and wanted to become a truck driver. Barth volunteered for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and equipped his truck with special emergency lights so he could help people.

"He isn't one to sit around and do nothing. He's always trying to push himself," Litwin said.

Barth has been in the Kane County jail since the crash. If he is not admitted to the boot camp, he will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence.

If he is admitted and successfully completes Impact Incarceration, he could be released within 120 days.

• Daily Herald staff writer Harry Hitzeman contributed to this story.

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