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updated: 4/26/2013 9:23 PM

WW South student killed; driver charged with DUI

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  • Karlos Leath

      Karlos Leath

  • A vehicle drives past the crash site where an 18-year-old student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School was killed Thursday night.

       A vehicle drives past the crash site where an 18-year-old student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School was killed Thursday night.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

An 18-year-old senior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, Stephanie Pickett, is being remembered for her outgoing personality and her love of animals after she was killed in a single-vehicle crash late Thursday on Shaffner Road near Wheaton.

The man who was driving the SUV, Karlos Leath, 31, of the 29W500 block of Country Ridge Drive in Warrenville, was charged with aggravated DUI in connection with the accident and was being held Friday in DuPage County jail on $1 million bail.

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Pickett was a passenger in the vehicle.

Family members, including Pickett's brother, Gary Lawrence, said Friday they were in mourning and not ready to talk about her death.

"Stephanie Pickett was an outgoing, friendly, and kindhearted student who will be missed by students and staff alike," Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials said in a statement.

A crisis team was put in place Friday at the high school to assist students or staff members who need to talk to someone after Pickett's death, district spokeswoman Erica Loiacono said.

Officials said a 2003 Ford Explorer driven by Leath was heading south on Shaffner near Mack Road about 10:30 p.m. when the SUV left the road, crashed into trees on the north side of Mack Road and rolled over.

The driver and passenger were taken to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, where Pickett was pronounced dead after suffering massive head injuries, authorities said. Leath was treated for minor injuries.

Leath was arrested after the crash for driving under the influence, authorities said. He faces two counts of aggravated DUI involving death and authorities said he must pay $100,000 to be released from jail. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison.

State's attorney's spokesman Paul Darrah said prosecutors sought a $2 million bail, but Judge Elizabeth Sexton set Leath's bail at half that amount.

In a statement, State's Attorney Robert Berlin said the community's "hearts go out to her family and friends who are now grieving their loss. As I have said many times in the past, the motoring public has to learn that if you have been drinking, do not risk your life or the lives of others by getting behind the wheel of a car."

Leath's next court appearance is scheduled for May 20 before Judge Blanche Hill-Fawell.

Pickett lived in Warrenville in the same apartment complex as Leath, a collection of three-story brick buildings near Route 59 and Batavia Road. She worked at Happy Paws Pet Resort in Carol Stream.

"She was very exuberant and very much enjoyed working with the animals," said John Marek, owner of Happy Paws, who was Pickett's boss since she began working there slightly more than a month ago.

Authorities said the cause of Thursday night's accident remains under investigation.

Shaffner Road was closed for about five hours while sheriff's investigators reconstructed the crash. The two-lane road on Friday afternoon bore few signs of the accident -- a mangled street sign warning of trucks entering and exiting the roadway, tire tracks in mud along the road and small shards of debris on the shoulder were all that remained.

Leath has a lengthy history of arrests including 13 instances in which he was pulled over for driving with his license suspended, according to DuPage County court records.

Many of those arrests may stem from a case in February 2003, when his license was suspended for not having mandatory insurance, according to Illinois Secretary of State records. Leath didn't pay all the fines and fees related to that case until Feb. 15, 2013 -- almost a decade later. He was given a new license after completing the testing process on March 6, according to Secretary of State records.

DuPage County court records also show Leath was arrested on charges of resisting a police officer in 2008 and 2010; criminal damage to property under $300 in 2005 and 2008; possession of cannabis in 2004 and 2009; consumption of alcohol by a minor in 2004; and possession of tobacco by a minor in 1996 and 1999.

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