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Appellate Court Upholds Vasquez' 15-Year Sentence

The Illinois Appellate Court this week affirmed a 15-year prison sentence for Sandra Vasquez, the driver of the car in a Feb. 2007 crash that killed five Oswego teenagers.

The Illinois Appellate Court has rendered its decision in the case of Sandra Vasquez, upholding her 15-year sentence in the 2007 crash that killed five Oswego teenagers.

In June of 2010, Vasquez was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated driving under the influence and five counts of reckless homicide in the Feb. 2007 crash. Vasquez, then 23, was driving a car at around 1:30 a.m. with eight teens as passengers, all of whom had left a party in Boulder Hill.

The vehicle careened off of Route 31 in Oswego and struck a utility pole. Four of the teens – Matthew Frank, 17; Katherine Merkel, 14; Jessica Nutoni, 15; and Tiffany Urso, 16 – were killed on impact. James McGee, 14, died seven days later. The three other teens, as well as Vasquez herself, were injured in the crash.

Vasquez was later found to have been drinking - her blood alcohol content was estimated at between 0.114 and 0.144 at the time of the accident, according to the appellate opinion.

In a unanimous decision filed Monday, the appellate court unanimously agreed with the Kendall County trial court, and said that Vasquez’ attorney, Kathleen Colton, failed to make the case that the state’s “extraordinary circumstances” law was too vague.

The law could have seen Vasquez receive probation instead of a prison sentence, if she proved that there were “extraordinary circumstances.” Colton had argued during the sentencing that Vasquez should be granted probation, since she had no prior criminal history, and is a single mother of two, and a long prison sentence could have a negative impact on her children.

In the appeal, defense attorneys argued that qualifying circumstances are not spelled out in sufficient detail, and “the statute provides no notice or guidance regarding what a defendant must present to the sentencing court and what standard of proof must be satisfied to warrant probation.”

In the appellate court’s written opinion, Judge Ann Jorgensen gave several reasons why Colton’s argument did not hold up. The phrase “extraordinary circumstances,” she said, is plain and easy to understand: “Extraordinary circumstances are, quite simply, those that are not ordinary,” she wrote. “They are unusual.”

The law, she wrote, provides enough guidance for sentencing judges to determine what is extraordinary enough to require probation. The court also rejected the defense argument that the court abused its discretion when sentencing Vasquez to 15 years in prison, saying that while Vasquez’ circumstances were mitigating, they were not extraordinary.

The appellate court, Jorgensen wrote, “is not unaffected by the many tragic elements before us. However, while this case has to some degree impacted each person it has touched, the fact remains that the five deceased victims and their families have paid the greatest price.

“As the trial court noted at sentencing, there are many alternative decisions that could have been made on the night of the accident but, sadly, were not.”

Working for Oswego June 08, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Amen....this is sad for ALL involved. We all make mistakes and there are consequences for our mistakes. Ms. Vasquez made a horrific mistake that night and for that, she is paying the price. It isn't up to us to decide if "she gets what she deserved". She is in prison for 15 years and will not see her children grow up. That alone is tragic. Those are the consequences of her actions. She is not alone in the blame. The teens made poor decisions and also suffered consequences. Deadly consequences... but everyone had a role in this...not just one person. Nine people piled into that car that night...no one was forced. Teens think they are immune to harm. To those who think she deserved no mercy; should those that survived have been arrested for underage drinking? They broke the law. Even after this accident...Oswego teens (many who swore that next morning they would never drink again) are still drinking. Playing the blame game and not forgiving anyone does no one any good. People must find peace in this and move on....and carry the valuable lesson with them.
country life June 08, 2012 at 10:41 AM
Gater's question "what happened to the people that held the party" has never been addressed. Not here in amateur court, or in the media. Those must be some powerful people to not only escape culpability, but to have avoided mention by the media. Makes me wonder.
Grammy June 08, 2012 at 11:22 AM
I agree--alot of blame goes to those kids for under age drinking, Vasquez is not alone in the blame. Your parents know you are/were out partying with under age drinking??
Lana Cleland June 08, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Ugh you people are all SO judgmental. What's done is done.
Polly Haon June 09, 2012 at 04:29 AM
It's not being bitter it is just being truthful! Everyone makes decisions in their lives and if you decide to drink and drive no matter what you should live with the consequences. Ms. Vasquez chose to drink and drive and she is now dealing with her consequences. That is the end to it all. There are plenty of people who don't make bad decisions like she did and they are going to live a life without prison. She must deal with her consequences.

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