Editorial: Driver in fatal DUI must not squander mercy, forgiveness shown him
Michael Szot was given a remarkable gift last week, one that he must not squander.
Szot, 23, of Geneva, was sentenced to four years of probation, one year of work release jail time and 200 hours of community service for drunkenly driving his car into a Naperville quarry, killing two friends, in 2014.
DuPage County Judge Brian Telander could have sentenced Szot to 20 years in prison, as prosecutors wanted, for the crime. But families of both the victims urged him to show leniency.
"Sending Mike to prison is not the solution. Mike is not a career criminal," Dhruv Boddupalli, brother of victim Mihirtej Boddupalli, told the judge of his brother's best friend and roommate. "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."
A judge can cite extraordinary circumstances when selecting probation over a prison sentence. Nothing is more extraordinary than someone forgiving the man who killed a family member. And yet, it happened again just last month in DuPage County when a wife asked for leniency for her husband's best friend of 50 years in a fatal DUI case.
But with these gifts come responsibility. For Szot, especially, he has a lifetime ahead of him to pay back those families and society for treating him with compassion.
For Jamie and Ted Blundell of Naperville, a similar gift they bestowed on a young man was repaid with heartache, over and over again. Sean McNees was a 16-year-old driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he lost control of his car and killed one of his passengers, 17-year-old Stacey Blundell in 2001. He was convicted of reckless homicide and prosecutors wanted him to serve jail time, but the Blundells urged them to accept a plea agreement that resulted in a 180-day sentence and probation. They hoped, just as the current families do of Szot, that McNees at such a young age would turn his life around.
He did just the opposite. He has since been sentenced to six years in prison for another DUI and an additional eight and a half years for twice driving on a revoked license.
He was in court for other infractions as well, each time causing pain to the family that initially treated him with kindness.
We urge Szot to remember the kindness of his friends' families and truly make something of his life moving forward. He has taken the first step.
"Accepting responsibility for the deaths of my friends is the most painful thing in my life," he said. "I can never say I'm sorry enough."