Judge rules charges in Highland Park huffing case are constitutional

  • Carly Rousso walks into the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan during her trial in May.

      Carly Rousso walks into the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan during her trial in May. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/10/2014 2:01 PM

A Lake County judge ruled Thursday it was constitutional for prosecutors to charge a Highland Park woman with aggravated driving under the influence in a fatal crash, even though the chemical compound she ingested is not on the state's list of intoxicating substances.

Judge James Booras said Carly Rousso, 20, knew she would become intoxicated by fumes from the computer dust cleaner when she intentionally inhaled the substance before driving into and killing 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento of Highland Park on Labor Day, 2012.


Because she knew the ramifications, she could be charged with the crime, Booras said.

"The defendant knew the effects it would have on her body, on her mind, on her surroundings and on her consciousness," he said. "She had prior warning and she had a conscious understanding that she would lose consciousness."

The ruling means Rousso, who was convicted May 29 on four counts of aggravated driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance, can be sentenced to prison for 3 to 14 years for the fatal crash. The law also states a person found guilty of the crime can be sentenced to probation if "extraordinary circumstances" exist.

A sentencing date will be set at a July 14 hearing.

"We are a little disappointed with the decision," defense attorney Douglas Zeit said after the hearing. He declined to comment further.

Zeit has argued it was unconstitutional to charge Rousso with aggravated driving under the influence for the crash because the chemical she was inhaling -- difluoroethane -- was not on the state's list of intoxicating substances.

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Had Booras ruled the case unconstitutional, it would have automatically gone to the state Supreme Court for a ruling.

Authorities said Rousso was "huffing" computer dust cleaner while driving her family-owned Lexus east in the 700 block of Central Avenue in Highland Park when she blacked out, swerved across traffic and hit the girl, her mother, and two brothers. The other family members survived.

Lake County prosecutors argued a "catchall" phrase in the law allows an aggravated DUI charge when the intoxicating compound in question is not officially recognized in the statute.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Ori would not comment on Thursday's ruling.

Rousso previously pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in the same case just before her May trial. She is also due to be sentenced on that charge during the upcoming hearing.

She remains free on bail while awaiting sentencing, but has relinquished her passport to the court.

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