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updated: 5/9/2014 5:15 PM

Man who killed news anchor Salerno gets 2 years in prison

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  • Randy Salerno

      Randy Salerno

  • Scott Hirschey

      Scott Hirschey

  • Defense attorneys pointed to 19 letters in support of Scott Hirschey, including this one from Irene Salerno, widow of Randy Salerno, a Chicago news anchor killed in 2008 when a drunken Hirschey crashed his snowmobile in Wisconsin.

       Defense attorneys pointed to 19 letters in support of Scott Hirschey, including this one from Irene Salerno, widow of Randy Salerno, a Chicago news anchor killed in 2008 when a drunken Hirschey crashed his snowmobile in Wisconsin.
    Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

 
 

A Crystal Lake man put on probation for a drunken 2008 snowmobile crash that killed his friend -- Chicago TV news anchor Randy Salerno -- was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for another DUI conviction.

Numerous people, including Salerno's widow, asked for leniency for Scott D. Hirschey, 50.

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He was pulled over July 27, 2012 -- just days after his probation ended -- in Crystal Lake after another motorist reported erratic driving in the middle of the afternoon, prosecutors said.

Hirschey, who struck a construction barrier, failed field sobriety tests. Officers found an open 20-ounce can of beer in the car, and authorities said his blood-alcohol concentration was .142. The legal threshold is .08.

In issuing the minimum prison-term sentence, McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham said, "The defendant's conduct caused or threatened to cause serious harm," Graham said. "Driving intoxicated ... is a dangerous circumstance."

Defense attorney Matthew Haiduk argued that probation was appropriate, saying no one was hurt the day of the 2012 DUI, that Hirschey has acknowledged his alcoholism, and became an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Nineteen letters of support were entered into the record from friends, peers and Salerno's widow.

Irene Salerno wrote to Graham that Hirschey was a kind, trustworthy and compassionate man who hit rock bottom at the time of his 2012 arrest.

"Since Scott started attending AA meetings, I've noted his zest for life start to return," Salerno wrote. "When I look into his eyes, I no longer see a hollowed out shell of a man. A part of Scott also died that fateful night, and he is forever scarred. However, Scott is learning to forgive himself and not punish himself by succumbing to his alcohol addiction."

Hirschey was spared prison time after he crashed into a tree about 11:30 p.m. Jan. 24, 2008, while riding along Plum Lake near Sayner, Wisconsin.

The crash killed Hirschey's childhood friend and passenger, Salerno, who reported and anchored for 11 years at WGN before moving in 2004 to CBS WBBM to co-host the station's morning news broadcast.

Wisconsin authorities said Hirschey's blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal threshold in the snowmobile crash. He faced up to 25 years in prison after admitting to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

But neither prosecutors nor Salerno's family wanted prison time, and Hirschey was sentenced in July 2009 to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Hirschey apologized Friday in court, saying his "horrendous decision" in July 2012 has jeopardized his business, home and relationship with his son.

"I am grateful no one was hurt and cannot express how truly sorry I am that the incident occurred," he said, noting how AA has helped him and has given him the tools to move forward.

Hirschey gave a short wave to supporters before being taken away in handcuffs.

"Keep your faith, Scott," yelled one of Hirschey's supporters, who all declined to comment afterward.

"Hang in there buddy," another said.

Under state law, Hirschey can have his sentence cut in half for good behavior while in prison,

Assistant State's Attorney David Metnick pushed for the maximum five-year sentence.

"I thought he deserved it," Metnick said.

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