An appeals court has rejected an argument that the state statute allowing for probation in the case of multiple DUI deaths if a defendant can show "extraordinary circumstances" is unconstitutionally vague.
In its ruling, the court also upheld the 15-year sentence against Sandra Vasquez, an Aurora woman who killed five Oswego teens in a February 2007 crash, saying the judge did not abuse his discretion.
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"While this case has, to some degree, impacted each person it has touched, the fact remains that the five deceased victims and their families have paid the greatest price," the panel concluded.
"As the trial court noted at sentencing, there are many alternative decisions that could have been made on the night of the accident, but sadly were not. The trial court's decision is simply not an abuse of discretion and must be affirmed."
A Kendall County jury convicted Vasquez in June 2010 of aggravated DUI and reckless homicide and she faced up to 28 years in prison.
Judge Clint Hull sentenced Vasquez, now 28, for the deaths of Oswego High School students Matthew Frank, 17; Katherine "Katie" Merkel, 14; James McGee, 14; Jessica Nutoni, 15; and Tiffany Urso, 16.
She was trying to give eight teens a ride home from an underage drinking party when she crashed into a telephone pole along Route 31 near River Run Road in Oswego.
At a sentencing hearing in August 2010, defense attorney Kathleen Colton sought to portray Vasquez, who was a 23-year-old single mother of a 5-year-old and 6-month-old at the time of the crash, as a good Samaritan who wanted to help a group of intoxicated, stranded teens who needed a ride.
Vasquez had no prior criminal arrests. She had two speeding tickets, and her blood-alcohol level was disputed at trial.
The appellate court noted that a fatal DUI carries the presumption that a defendant will be incarcerated and that only extraordinary circumstances -- as defined by a law dictionary as a "highly unusual set of facts that are not commonly associated with a particular thing or event" -- can be used to avoid prison. The panel said it was not "highly unusual" that Vasquez made a poor decision, didn't intend to hurt anyone and felt remorse.
Colton on Wednesday said the court's ruling in her opinion did not shed any light on what exactly constitutes an extraordinary circumstance.
"I think a lot of it depends on the luck of draw of where you get charged with a DUI and which judge you end up in front of." Colton said. "(Vasquez) never met any of them before that night. She was just trying to help them out because nobody would give them a ride home."
Vasquez has a March 2023 release date, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.