Prosecutors: Driver in fatal Downers Grove crash was coming off 4-day cocaine bender

  • Joseph Kucharski

    Joseph Kucharski

Updated 2/26/2019 12:10 PM

DuPage County prosecutors say Joseph Kucharski was asleep at the wheel at 10:55 a.m. on Feb. 19 when he drove through the intersection of Main and Grant streets, striking and fatally injuring Beth Dunlap, a 17-year-old student at Downers Grove North High School.

And though he stopped and waited for officials to arrive after the crash, he later wished he hadn't.


Assistant State's Attorney Kristin Johnston said he expressed his thoughts at the hospital after the crash.

"I should have kept going. But now I'm being treated like a criminal," Johnston said Kucharski told police officers. "I should have kept going."

Details of the crash and the days leading up to it were disclosed at a Tuesday hearing at which DuPage County Judge Liam Brennan reduced Kucharski's bail from $5 million, on his original warrant, to $750,000.

Johnston said the Naperville man was coming off a four-day cocaine bender in which he slept only a few hours. She said he had taken Xanax to help him sleep as he came down from the weekend high.

The Xanax and a prescription medication used to help opiate abusers wean themselves were found in his car. A search of the hotel room where Kucharski was staying found two crack pipes, cocaine and an open bottle of vodka.

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Johnston said an unidentified witness told prosecutors he bought and used drugs with Kucharski on Chicago's West Side in the days before the crash.

On Feb. 19, authorities said Kucharski drove south on Main Street, after running a red light.

Beth, who had late arrival privileges, and a teacher were preparing to cross to enter school. Johnston said the teacher heard the vehicle and slowed her pace.

The vehicle struck Beth. She died Friday and her organs were donated.

Kucharski, sobbing and dabbing his eyes with a tissue, said "Oh my God," as a grisly surveillance video of the crash played in court.

Johnston said Kucharski stopped at the scene and first told police he had a green light, the sun was in his eyes and he was adjusting his rearview mirror.


An officer noticed what appeared to be some impairment. Kucharski failed a field sobriety test and his BAC was determined to be .031. Johnston said Kucharski told officers he had a few beers the previous night at his hotel.

At the time of his arrest, Johnston said, Kucharski's "bags were packed and he was ready to go" to Arizona where he has family ties.

"First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to Beth's family and friends," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said. "They have suffered a devastating loss that no amount of time can heal. Their unimaginable heartbreak is shared by the staff and students at Downers Grove North High School as well as the entire community.

"The loss of such a wonderful young woman, who was full of life, will have a profound lasting effect on the lives of countless DuPage County residents."

Johnston said Kucharski's ex-wife told prosecutors she divorced Kucharski, with whom she has 15- and 17-year-old daughters, because their life had become a "roller coaster of drug use."

Prosecutors said Kucharski has a criminal history dating to 1985 that includes two DUI arrests, a conviction for possessing cannabis in Georgia and a battery conviction.

Kucharski's attorney, Jay Fuller, sought a $50,000 bail and asked that Kucharski be released to an inpatient treatment facility.

Fuller also said, should he be released, Kucharski has the ability to live in an Aurora home that is currently used as a rental property. Kuchasrki, Fuller said, also can be employed as a real estate broker.

Brennan called the allegations of the crash "horrific," but said he was bound by the Constitution, which prohibits excessive bail in the Eighth Amendment, to lower Kucharski's bail.

Should Kucharski be released, Brennan prohibited him from purchasing, renting or driving any vehicle and ordered him to wear a drug-detecting patch if not in inpatient treatment and an alcohol-monitoring device on his ankle. He is also prohibited from contacting the Dunlap family.

Brennan warned he would increase Kucharski's bail should any violations occur.

Kucharski's arraignment is scheduled for March 15. He is eligible to serve three to 14 years in prison if convicted of felony aggravated DUI causing death and reckless homicide.

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