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Aurora woman gets 15 years in DUI crash which killed five
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Sandra Vasquez

 

Sandra Vasquez, center, and parents Jesus and Monica Vasquez walk into the Kendall County courthouse in Yorkville during the Aurora woman's June 2010 trial.

 

Daily Herald file

A memorial honors five teens killed Feb. 11, 2007 near Route 31 and River Run Boulevard in Oswego.

 

Daily Herald File

Matt Frank

 

James McGee

 

Katherine "Katy" Merkel

 

Jessica Nutoni

 

Tiffany Urso

 

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Published: 8/27/2010 6:24 AM | Updated: 8/27/2010 9:26 PM

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As Matthew Frank's mother described looking down at her 17-year-old son's cold broken body, and how his lifeless eyes stared back up at her, Sandra Vasquez could no longer handle that sad truth.

"I can't. I can't. God, I can't do this!" she sobbed as deputies led her out of the packed courtroom. "I'm so sorry."

The Aurora single mother was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for causing a Feb. 11, 2007 drunken crash that killed five Oswego teens and injured four others, including herself. The anguish born from that horrific morning filled a Kendall County courtroom during an emotional sentencing hearing punctuated with regret and unimaginable loss.

An inconsolable Vasquez, 26, twice caused short recesses in the daylong proceeding. Yet, when it came time for Judge Clint Hull to impose the sentence, Vasquez remained calm.

"I've asked my God to take me over and over again," she said minutes earlier, with her right hand on her heart, facing the victims' families. "As God is my witness, I never wanted this to happen. But now, I'm ready to do what my God wants me to do and it's OK."

It was more than 31/2 years ago that five sets of parents learned their teenage children were never coming home again. Oswego High School students Matthew Frank, 17; Katherine "Katie" Merkel, 14; James McGee, 14; Jessica Nutoni, 15; and Tiffany Urso, 16, were killed in the high-speed crash after Vasquez struck a telephone pole along Route 31 near River Run Road.

On Friday, one by one, the teens' parents described awakening to a knock on the door; a uniformed police officer standing outside; their dead child on a cold silver coroner's table; and attending five funerals in one week.

Michael Nutoni, who fell to his knees upon learning his daughter was dead, said: "What was taken away was her bright smile and sweet voice that would say, 'I love you daddy.' I will never be able to hear that again. If they gave (Vasquez) 100 years, it wouldn't bring my child back. I'm glad it's over so I can just move on with my life."

The parents did not seek revenge. They did not utter words of hate, but forgiveness may never be found.

"My son did not die. He was killed and his sentence is final," said Donna Dwyer of Frank, her second born. "There are a lot of lessons to be learned. Many parents say, 'Not my kid.' Well, it can happen to you, too."

Vasquez is eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of the 15-year prison term. She faced six to 28 years in prison, or probation, for aggravated DUI and reckless homicide. State's Attorney Eric Weis and his prosecutors, Michael Reidy and Robert Dore, sought a 24-year sentence.

Defense attorney Kathleen Colton asked for probation. She portrayed Vasquez as a Good Samaritan who tried to do the right thing for a group of intoxicated, stranded teens who asked for a ride. Judge Hull said Vasquez's remorse was sincere, but that a message of deterrence must be delivered.

"You had the keys," Hull said. "You made a conscious decision that night with eight people in your car. You were responsible for not only your safety, but your passengers' safety and everyone else on the road."

Vasquez's family, including parent Jesus and Monica, pleaded for mercy and apologized to the other families.

"This will never be over," said Erica Vasquez, the defendant's 28-year-old sister. "You may never forgive us and we understand, but just know my sister never meant for this to happen. She wishes every day that it was her."

Sandra Vasquez has two young children. Colton read a letter to the judge from 8-year-old Isaiah, who the family said had been marking off the days on his calender until his mother's return.

"Can you please bring my mommy back? I love her and can't live without her," the boy wrote.

Three other teens - Joshua Dillon, Bobby Larsen Jr. and Arielle Rexford - survived traumatic injuries. Rexford spoke of survivor's guilt. An 18-year-old Larsen was particularly poignant.

"My mom and dad told me to please try to trust the judicial system, but a lot of people made mistakes that night," he wrote in a letter his father read. "I don't want anyone to get mad at me, but I feel bad about the court taking Sandra away from her family."

Colton is planning an appeal. Meanwhile, Vasquez's parents will raise her children.

"It's been a long journey," her mother said. "We're just going to take it one day at a time."