Parents: 'No justice' for girl killed by huffing driver

  • Tomas Santos de Jesus and Modesta Sacramento Jimenez are still grieving for their daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, who was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012.

      Tomas Santos de Jesus and Modesta Sacramento Jimenez are still grieving for their daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, who was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, 5, was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012.

    Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, 5, was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012. Courtesy of the Santos-Sacramento family

  • Carly Rousso walks into the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan earlier this year.

      Carly Rousso walks into the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan earlier this year. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Modesta Sacramento Jimenez wipes away a tear as she discusses the death of her daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, and what life has been like since the girl was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012.

      Modesta Sacramento Jimenez wipes away a tear as she discusses the death of her daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, and what life has been like since the girl was killed by an intoxicated driver in 2012. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Tomas Santos de Jesus and Modesta Sacramento Jimenez discuss the 2012 death of their daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento.

      Tomas Santos de Jesus and Modesta Sacramento Jimenez discuss the 2012 death of their daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/15/2014 5:18 AM

It's been two years since 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento was killed by a chemically impaired driver while walking on a Highland Park sidewalk -- and time hasn't eased her parents' grief.

A part of them, they say, is missing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We feel like we've been destroyed, like we don't have an arm anymore," Jaclyn's father, Tomas Santos de Jesus, said in Spanish during an interview at the Daily Herald's Libertyville office.

Jaclyn's mother, Modesta Sacramento Jimenez, can't bring herself to talk about the Sept. 3, 2012, crash that also injured her and Jaclyn's two brothers.

When asked to describe what she remembers from those horrific moments, Sacramento Jimenez politely declined. Tears followed.

The woman who killed Jaclyn, 20-year-old Carly Rousso of Highland Park, was sentenced last month to 5 years in state prison.

With good behavior in prison, Rousso could go free in less than 3 years under state guidelines.

For Jaclyn's parents, that's not enough time.

"There was no justice," Santos de Jesus said.

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'A happy girl'

Although her parents are from Mexico, Jaclyn was born in the United States, as were her brothers.

She loved to dance, her parents said.

"She was a happy girl," Sacramento Jimenez said in Spanish during the interview, the couple's first sit-down with reporters since Rousso's sentencing.

Jaclyn had just begun kindergarten at Indian Trail Elementary School in Highland Park when she was killed.

She had been looking forward to school, her mother recalled.

"She liked to learn new things," Sacramento Jimenez said. "She liked writing and reading."

Jaclyn, her mother and her brothers were walking home along Central Avenue. That morning, they had taken family photographs at a local park, and they went to a Walgreens store to pick up the developed film.

Carly Rousso was headed home, too.

Driving her family's Lexus, Rousso had just purchased two cans of computer dust cleaner from a Walgreens in Deerfield.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Three weeks earlier, she ended an 18-month stay at a Utah drug-rehabilitation facility, her father, David, testified during her sentencing hearing.

Rousso huffed chemicals from one can as she drove. She blacked out and lost control of the car.

It veered across four lanes of traffic and onto a sidewalk, where it struck Jaclyn and her family.

Jaclyn was run over several times before the car stopped.

Those details weren't disputed in court.

Rousso pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in May, the same month she was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence in a bench trial before Lake County Judge James Booras.

Rousso's lawyers never contested she was behind the wheel when the crash occurred. At her sentencing, attorney Jed Stone and defense witnesses tried to paint Rousso as an addict who had turned to drugs after bullying at school, a rape and a dog attack.

Rousso apologized for the deadly crash in a statement during her sentencing hearing.

"I wish more than anything it could've been me instead of Jaclyn," she said.

Rousso faced up to 14 years in prison. Assistant State's Attorney Mike Ori asked for eight years.

In settling on a five-year sentence, Booras was lenient. But he had strong words for Rousso before she was taken into custody.

"She's still alive and should be considering herself lucky that she's standing in this courtroom today," Booras said. "Society is not ready to forgive this kind of conduct."

Neither are Jaclyn's parents.

"We would just tell her that every time she sees a little girl, remember our daughter," Santos de Jesus said.

They're especially angry about public appearances Rousso made while free on bail this summer as she awaited sentencing. At the gatherings, she tearfully spoke to children about the accident as reporters looked on.

A photograph of Jaclyn was prominently displayed.

In his conversation with the Daily Herald, Santos de Jesus lashed out at the events' organizers.

"Who gave you permission to use my child's photo?" he said.

Rousso's father, David, acknowledged the "extraordinary suffering" his daughter's actions caused.

"That suffering can be no more deeply felt than in the hearts of Jaclyn's parents," David Rousso said in an email. "We pray for them, their children and all those who loved Jaclyn. We pray as well for our daughter, whom we love and support and everyone touched by this terrible tragedy."

Jaclyn's parents settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against Carly Rousso in 2013. The terms weren't publicized.

In a telephone interview, Stone said he'd like the two families to sit down with each other one day and talk.

"I think healing can occur," Stone said.

Brothers don't know

Santos de Jesus is a dishwasher at a Deerfield restaurant. Sacramento Jimenez raises the couple's two surviving children, 8-year-old Daniel and 5-year-old Juancarlos.

The boys do not know their sister is dead. Their parents have told them she is in Mexico.

The truth is still too painful to share.

"We are waiting for the kids to grow up a little more," Santos de Jesus said.

"They realize what happened that day, but they don't know they aren't going to see her anymore," Sacramento Jimenez said. "All the time, they are asking us for her. I don't know what to say."

The couple doesn't have any family in the United States to help them bear the burden of their loss.

"We don't have anybody," Santos de Jesus said. "We are living by ourselves with the grief."

Holidays are particularly difficult for the family.

"It gets harder when it's her birthday or when celebrations come like Christmas," Santos de Jesus said. "We feel pretty bad about it, that she's not with us."

When asked if he had a message he wanted to share with other parents, Santos de Jesus urged them to take care of their children.

"We don't want them to go through what we went through," he said.

Sacramento Jimenez shared a similar sentiment.

"One doesn't know what is going to happen all the time," she said. "The streets are safe, but we never know if a driver is drunk."

"Or using drugs," Santos de Jesus quickly added.

The couple expressed no sympathy for Rousso's parents.

"Carly's parents, at least they're going to see their daughter (and) visit her at the jail," Santos de Jesus said. "But we're not. We're just going to have memories of our daughter."

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