Driver in fatal Naperville DUI crash gets probation, work release

  • Michael Szot of Geneva was sentenced to four years' probation and a work release program for a DUI crash that killed two friends. The victims' familes asked for leniency.

    Michael Szot of Geneva was sentenced to four years' probation and a work release program for a DUI crash that killed two friends. The victims' familes asked for leniency.

  • Kayaks and paddleboats dotted the Naperville quarry just hours after fire department divers tried to rescue the people in a car that left the road and plunged into the water.

      Kayaks and paddleboats dotted the Naperville quarry just hours after fire department divers tried to rescue the people in a car that left the road and plunged into the water. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/11/2016 9:22 AM

A Geneva man who pleaded guilty last August to charges from a 2014 fatal DUI crash that killed two of his friends in Naperville was sentenced Thursday to four years of probation and one year in a DuPage County jail work release program after family members of the victims asked for leniency.

Michael Szot, 23, of the 2600 block of Chatham Court, also must take monthly drug tests, wear an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet for three years after being released from jail, and perform 200 hours of community service by speaking to students about the dangers of drunken driving.

 

Prosecutors had asked that Szot be sentenced to 20 years in prison. But DuPage Judge Brian Telander said Szot's previously spotless criminal and traffic record, his previous academic success, his apparent genuine remorse and the wishes of the victim's families that Szot not be sent to prison presented enough extraordinary circumstances to warrant a probationary sentence.

"Every other aspect (of his life) has been exemplary," Telander said. "In this case, representatives of both families told me they hold no malice for the defendant. In fact, they hold him in their prayers."

Victim Sajaad Syed's mother Dilshad Ikramullah said she still has difficulty referring to her son in the past tense and his bedroom remains untouched in her home. But her family has "never felt any malice or judgment toward Mike."

She pleaded with Telander to show mercy.

"(Szot's) remorse and apology is tremendous," she said. "Mike is a good young man."

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After Telander's ruling, Ikramullah said she did what "any mother would do" by asking for what she believes her son would have wanted.

Szot's best friend and roommate Mihirtej Boddupalli also died in the crash. His brother, Dhruv Boddupalli, spoke on behalf of his family, also begging Telander to have mercy on Szot.

"Sending Mike to prison is not the solution. Mike is not a career criminal," he said. "We believe the best solution is to allow him to complete his education and use the skills he learns to help others. Mihirtej would want his friend to be forgiven."

Szot's attorney, Jeff Fawell, called Szot an "all-American kid" who made a tragic decision.

Szot told Telander not a day goes by that he doesn't think about what he did to his friends.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I made one decision and it cost them their lives. Accepting responsibility for the deaths of my friends is the most painful thing in my life," Szot said. "I can never say I'm sorry enough."

Szot declined to comment after the hearing. But Fawell said his client was "overwhelmed."

Szot had faced six to 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated DUI for the accident that also spurred a crackdown on late-night drinking in Naperville's downtown taverns.

Naperville police officers testified Thursday that Szot was driving west on Aurora Avenue in Naperville about 1:45 a.m. July 19, 2014, with two friends in his car. As he approached the curve near Eagle Street, his car left the road and plunged into Quarry Lake, a scenic recreational area near downtown.

Szot escaped from the submerged car, and police soon arrived and took him into custody. Divers discovered the bodies of Sajaad Syed and Mihirtej Boddupalli, both 21, still in the car at the bottom of the murky, 45-foot-deep lake.

Prosecutors said Szot, the former co-president of Geneva High School's Students Against Destructive Decisions organization, had a blood alcohol content of .168 percent after the crash. Szot also admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day and had a marijuana pipe in his pocket. Police said a backpack, belonging to Szot, found in the car also contained a marijuana grinder and 1.9 grams of marijuana.

Prosecutors said Szot had as many as nine beers and rum shots at a party at Features Bar and Grille in Naperville before the crash. That tragedy, in addition to the 2012 stabbing murder of a Naperville teacher at a downtown bar, led to the city enacting a new liquor code that restricts late-night entry to bars, sales of shots and beer sizes.

Szot, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is being allowed to finish the semester and complete his exams before reporting to jail on April 4.

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