A former Schaumburg man who fled to his native South Korea to avoid facing the consequences of a fatal accident he caused was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
Kyung Ho Song, 75, pleaded guilty Thursday to reckless homicide and aggravated DUI in the Oct. 11, 1996, Bartlett crash that claimed the life of 43-year-old Sonia Naranjo, of Chicago.
It was about midnight and Naranjo and fellow passenger Mayra Sanchez were pushing their stalled station wagon onto the shoulder of U.S. Route 20 when Song's car struck them. Naranjo, who was embedded in the grill of the car, was killed instantly. Sanchez, who was propelled onto the pavement, suffered skull fractures and other serious injuries, prosecutors said.
Song's blood alcohol content after the crash registered .181. The legal limit was .10 at the time.
He must serve at least 50 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. With credit for 339 days in custody, he will likely be released in less than two years.
Naranjo's tearful family expressed disappointment with Judge Bridget Hughes' sentence.
"It's just not fair. He flees for 18 years ... what justice can there be?" said Naranjo's oldest daughter Brenda Molina after the hearing.
Only 23 when her mother was killed, Molina took over caring for her three younger siblings, several of whom were teenagers.
"We all stuck together. We had to learn fast how to be independent," said Naranjo's younger daughter, Esmeralda Mendez, who like her sister, anticipated a longer sentence.
"We waited all this time for two years," she said. "He was free all that time."
In her victim impact statement Molina described in wrenching detail the pain of losing her mother.
"We remember the day like it was yesterday," she said. "My mom was the only parent we had."
Molina described her mother's contagious laughter, her love of bingo and her children's sorrow at her loss.
"Not a day goes by that we don't think of her. We miss her every day," said Molina. "On Mother's Day, instead of giving my mom flowers in her hands, we lay them on her grave."
Song sat with his head bowed. Nearby, eight members of his family cried quietly
Arguing for probation, defense attorney Edward Austin urged Hughes not to "judge the man by one bad day and one tragic mistake."
"He feels great shame, remorse and regret," Austin said. "He can't even look his family in the eye."
In a letter to the court read by an interpreter, Song, who came to the United States in 1981 and worked three jobs to support his family, apologized to the Naranjo family and told them he prays for them every day.
He referred to numerous health issues, including cancer, diabetes, back and stomach problems saying, "all this suffering is my sin and God punishing me."
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Karen Crothers argued for a maximum 14-year sentence, saying Song "denied this family closure and justice for more than 18 years."
"This case does not involve just one day," said Crothers. "This case involves over 6,000 bad days where they (Naranjo's children) are deprived of the love and affection of their mother ... the result of the conscious decision by this defendant to flee the jurisdiction and go on to a normal life in Korea."
In July 1998, several months after entering a guilty plea, Song fled to South Korea. In 2011, Bartlett Sgt. Geoffrey Pretkelis began investigating Song's whereabouts. Over nearly a year, he tracked down witnesses and -- with help from local, state and federal authorities including the FBI and the Department of Justice -- located Song, who was arrested in December 2013 and extradited to the U.S. in March.
Hughes acknowledged the anger and grief of Naranjo's family and the shame and grief of Song's during an emotional, 90-minute hearing.
She also noted Song -- from his first appearance before her in April -- indicated he intended to plead guilty.
"It appears to me Mr. Song had one bad day," she said. "But his conduct took away a human life, (which is) the worst thing one person can do to another."