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updated: 5/29/2014 6:52 PM

Rousso guilty of aggravated DUI in death of 5-year-old Highland Park girl

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  • Video: Carly Rousso verdict

  • Carly Rousso

      Carly Rousso

  • Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim talks to the media Thursday after the guilty verdict in the Carly Rousso case.

       Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim talks to the media Thursday after the guilty verdict in the Carly Rousso case.
    Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

  • Family members of Carly Rousso leave the courtroom after Thursday's verdict.

       Family members of Carly Rousso leave the courtroom after Thursday's verdict.
    Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

 
 

A Highland Park teenager who was admittedly high when she ran over and killed a 5-year-old girl in 2012 faces up to 14 years in prison after a guilty verdict Thursday.

Carly Rousso didn't testify in her trial, but nevertheless it was her words that prompted Lake County Judge James Booras to find her guilty of aggravated driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance.

Booras cited Rousso's comments to police after the fatal crash -- specifically that she was a drug addict who had inhaled chemicals from a can of computer dust remover -- before rendering his decision.

"It's her own testimony," Booras told a crowded Waukegan courtroom.

Booras also pointed to Rousso's actions before the crash, particularly her drive to a Deerfield drugstore to buy the product, as proof she intended to get high.

"To most of the public, that's a cleaning agent," Booras said. "To the defendant, that's a drug."

Defense attorney Douglas Zeit didn't contest that Rousso, 19, killed Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento in the September 2012 crash. It also injured Jaclyn's mother and two brothers.

Earlier this week, Rousso pleaded guilty to reckless homicide.

But Zeit argued the state's intoxicated driving law didn't apply to this case because the chemical Rousso admittedly ingested before the crash, difluoroethane, isn't specifically listed in the statute.

Before Thursday's closing arguments, Zeit filed a motion of acquittal that challenged the law.

After a 20-minute recess and 10 minutes of debate, Booras denied the motion. He said it's his role to enforce the laws of the state, not determine whether a law is unconstitutional.

Prosecutors alleged Rousso blacked out behind the wheel of her family's Lexus on Central Avenue as she was headed home from Deerfield. The car veered across four lanes of traffic and onto a sidewalk, where it hit Jaclyn and her family, lawyers said.

Surveillance video played during the trial showed the car hitting Jaclyn. Prosecutors played another surveillance video Thursday, one that showed Rousso buying the cleaner.

Assistant State's Attorney Stella Veytsel gave a passionate closing argument Thursday.

"This defendant made the decision that she wanted a cheap high. Twenty-two dollars' worth," Veytsel said after picking up a clear evidence bag containing the can of cleaner. "That's what Jaclyn's life was worth."

Veytsel went on to describe how Rousso first inhaled the chemical in the parking lot and then again two more times as she drove back to Highland Park.

"She had to do it right then and there," Veytsel said.

During his closing remarks, Zeit called the crash "horrific and tragic."

But as he had done with his earlier motion, he insisted Rousso wasn't guilty of intoxicated driving because of the law's wording.

When it came time to deliver the verdict, Booras admitted Zeit's argument "may have validity" and said it could set the stage for an appeal.

Sentencing was set for July 10. Rousso was allowed to remain free on bail, but she has to relinquish her passport, if she has one, Booras said.

Rousso's family and members of the victim's family were seated separately in the courtroom. Both families left the courthouse after the verdict without talking to gathered reporters.

State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, who observed the verdict from the gallery, said Jaclyn's family remains devastated by her death.

"They're really having a tough time," Nerheim said. "They're incredibly emotional. It's hard to imagine an even worse case than this."

As for the verdict, Nerheim said Jaclyn's family was hoping for justice.

"And they feel like they got justice today," he said.

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