'It is wholly inadequate': Family disappointed after driver gets 7 years for killing teen

  • Joseph Kucharski

    Joseph Kucharski

 
 
Updated 7/23/2020 6:34 AM

Joseph Kucharski was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison for the reckless homicide of Downers Grove North High School student Beth Dunlap, in which he ran her down in front of the school in a drug-and-alcohol-induced haze.

"We are extremely disappointed in the sentence. It is wholly inadequate," Dunlap's father, Randy Dunlap Jr., said of the sentence imposed by DuPage County Judge Alexander McGimpsey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kucharski, 52, pleaded guilty in January to the reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol.

He could have been sentenced to as little as probation or as many as 14 years in prison.

He will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

"I pray to her (Beth) and I pray to God for you and your family," Kucharski said, crying, before the sentence was pronounced. He said he asks Beth every day to help him help other people. Residents of a sober-living house he has been living in testified to how Kucharski tells the story of the crash as a warning to other people, in numerous Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there and elsewhere.

Dunlap read a victim-impact statement to the court earlier in the afternoon.

He repeatedly called Kucharski "selfish."

"As a result of the irresponsible decisions by a derelict, we have a life sentence of pain and sadness," he said.

He also said the family has not attended previous hearings to avoid having their strong emotions interfere.

About two dozen friends and relatives of the Dunlap family attended the hearing in the courtroom, while more watched on a TV in an overflow room.

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Prosecutors showed a video of the crash, captured on the high school's surveillance video.

Dunlap had just started crossing Main Street from a school parking lot on the northeast corner of the intersection when she was hit by Kucharski, who drove through a red light, south, in a northbound lane of the four-lane road. Her body flew and flipped through the air, coming to rest on the southeast corner.

She sustained severe injuries, especially to her head, and was pronounced dead two days later.

On a police-squad video that was played, Kucharski questioned why the windshield of his car was damaged, said he had been driving 20 mph, and that the sun had gotten in his eyes.

Dunlap's backpack was wedged in a corner of the hood of his car; her head cracked the windshield. But later that day he told police he was driving 40 to 45 mph.

The crash happened shortly before 11 a.m. Feb. 19, 2019.

Kucharski's blood-alcohol content measured .031. Police found unprescribed medication in the car including Suboxone, and items commonly used for people to smoke crack cocaine. More such items were found when they searched his hotel room.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kucharski eventually admitted that he had been on a four-day cocaine bender, and had taken Xanax in an attempt to calm down and get some sleep.

Prosecutors contend that he was on his way to Chicago to buy more cocaine.

On the squad-car video, when the officer was out of the vehicle, Kucharski is heard saying "It was a matter of time" and that he had "dozed off."

A teacher who had been standing next to Dunlap at the light was so devastated by the crash that she had to take a medical leave of absence that school year, and ultimately quit permanently, Downers Grove North Principal Janice Schwarze testified.

She spoke of the devastation the school community experienced that day, and said the impact lingers, even extending to graduation this year. The school had a drive-through ceremony because of COVID19, but moved it out of that parking lot so the memory of the horrific crash would not be associated with the ceremony.

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