Lee R. Patterson III acknowledged the forgiveness shown by the mother of the 22-year-old woman he killed while driving drunk 20 months ago in North Aurora.
"Whether I walk out of the courtroom today or I go to prison, that's the best grace I've been given in my entire life," Patterson said during the second day of an emotional sentencing hearing Thursday during which he repeatedly apologized to the family of Doreen Cardenas.
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Her mother, Belinda Rodriguez, testified last month at the start of the sentencing hearing that she had forgiven Patterson. But she also said: "It is painful to accept that she's gone. That she's not coming back. I still hope to wake up from this nightmare."
Patterson, 33, of the 1000 block of Assell Avenue in Aurora, could face a lengthy prison term after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident and aggravated DUI.
Kane County prosecutors argued that Patterson had a blood-alcohol concentration of between .109 and .182 (the legal threshold is .080) on Oct. 25, 2010, when he hit Cardenas, of Cicero, and injured her boyfriend, Pedro Navarro, who was walking her to her car on the 0-99 block of Grant Street. Patterson turned himself in several hours later.
Assistant State's Attorney Reagan McGuire argued that Patterson should receive a four-year sentence for leaving the scene and another four years for aggravated DUI, and that the sentences should be served one after the other. She said Patterson kept driving after the crash, made more than 20 calls to friends and relatives, and that his claim that he thought he hit another vehicle was not credible.
"He left (Navarro) there to bleed and he left another one to die," McGuire said. "This defendant is not blameless. Doreen Cardenas is dead and Pedro Navarro's life is permanently damaged."
Judge James Hallock took the matter under advisement and will make his decision July 12.
Patterson faces four to 15 years in prison for leaving the scene and three to 14 years in prison on the aggravated DUI charge. He could, however, receive probation if Hallock finds "extraordinary circumstances."
That's what defense attorney Glenn Sowa argued for, noting that Patterson has voluntarily gone to counseling, hasn't had a drink since the accident, received a glowing recommendation from his probation officer, and has renewed his faith. Patterson also provides child support for two his of two teenage children from a previous marriage and his girlfriend is pregnant, Sowa said,
"I feel like 'sorry' isn't a strong enough word," Patterson said, his voice cracking. "I find it hard to be happy that I'm still here (alive). ... It's my fault. I accept responsibility."