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The People of the State of Illinois v. Sandra Vasquez

June 4, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
SANDRA VASQUEZ,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kendall County. No. 07-CF-67 Honorable Clint T. Hull, Judge, Presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Schostok concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 On June 30, 2010, defendant, Sandra Vasquez, was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) (625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(C), (d)(1)(F) (West 2006)) and 5 counts of reckless homicide (720 ILCS 5/9-3(a) (West 2006)). The trial court sentenced her to 15 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) section 11-501(d)(2)(G) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(2)(G) (West 2008))*fn1 is unconstitutionally vague; and (2) her 15-year sentence is excessive. For the following reasons, we affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The issues on appeal pertain primarily to sentencing. However, for context and as the underlying facts of this case are largely undisputed, we briefly summarize the evidence presented at trial.

¶ 4 A. Trial

¶ 5 On February 10, 2007, defendant was a 23-year-old, single mother of two young children (ages five years and six months). Defendant was a certified nurse assistant who worked with Alzheimer's patients at a nursing home. At around 10:30 p.m., after putting her children to bed, defendant drove her younger sister, Vanessa (age 18), to their aunt's house, in Boulder Hill. There, and without permission, their 18-year-old cousin held a party in the basement. Defendant testified that there was no party going on when she dropped off Vanessa. Because she had a 1 a.m. curfew, Vanessa told defendant that she would call later for a ride home.

¶ 6 After dropping off Vanessa, defendant decided not to go all the way home; instead, around 11 p.m., she went to another aunt's house, a few blocks away, where she visited with her aunt and Anna, her cousin's girlfriend. While visiting, defendant drank one beer and a "Jaeger-bomb" (a shot of Jaegermeister mixed with a Red Bull energy drink). Defendant opened a second beer, but she could not recall whether she finished it. Between 12:30 and 1 a.m., defendant and Anna left to pick up Vanessa. Defendant testified that she did not feel or exhibit any signs of being under the influence of alcohol.

¶ 7 When they arrived at the Boulder Hill residence, a house party was underway. Defendant and Anna sat in the car in the driveway, but Vanessa called defendant and asked her to come inside the house because there was a girl causing "trouble." Defendant went inside to help and found that there were approximately 30 to 40 people between the ages of 14 and 23 drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at a "makeshift bar" set up in the basement. According to Vanessa, when defendant arrived, she did not exhibit any signs of being under the influence of alcohol.

¶ 8 Defendant looked around and noticed Joshua Dillon, a boy whom she did not know, sitting on the couch; he appeared to be drunk and "passed out." Defendant felt bad for Dillon, roused him, and took him outside, where he vomited. Defendant then brought Dillon back inside. Defendant started picking up bottles and cleaning up; her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend returned home and yelled for everyone to leave. Defendant went to speak with her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend; they testified that defendant did not smell of alcohol or appear to be under the influence. The people in the basement started making telephone calls and trying to arrange for rides home. Dillon approached defendant, told her that his ride had left him and that he lived just over one block away, and asked her for a ride home. Defendant again felt bad for Dillon, and she agreed to drive him home.

¶ 9 Defendant drove a four-door Infiniti sedan. When she went outside, she saw that her car was filling up with minors claiming that they were all going to the same place as Dillon. Vanessa and defendant both testified that defendant said, "you guys need to get out, we don't fit," but that the passengers were laughing, saying that they were going to the same place, and generally not paying attention to defendant. Defendant testified that she did not wish to argue with them. Vanessa was upset that defendant did not have room for her or Anna and was, instead, giving other people a ride. Defendant explained that, as a mother, she hoped that, if her kids were at a party and needed a ride, somebody else would do the same for them.

¶ 10 In total, nine people rode inside defendant's car. Defendant, Matthew Frank, and Katie Merkel (who sat on Frank's lap) sat in the two front bucket seats. Arielle Rexford, Robert Larsen, Jr., Josh Dillon, and James McGee sat in the backseat with Jessica Nutoni and Tiffany Urso sitting on their laps. Defendant reiterated that she tried to get some of the teenagers to exit the car, but that no one would get out. Nevertheless, defendant agreed that it was not safe to drive with that many passengers in the car, that she was the only adult in the vehicle, and that her vehicle's left headlight was out.

¶ 11 Defendant estimated that she drove away at around 1:30 or 1:45 a.m. Defendant testified that it was difficult to drive with so many passengers. There was confusion about where they were going, loud music, and conversation. Defendant testified that she has "a lead foot" and "usually drive[s] pretty fast." Defendant agreed that it is not safe to drive fast. She did not know how fast she was driving that night, because there was a picture of her children by her speedometer. While driving south on Route 31 in Oswego near River Run Boulevard, defendant felt a bump from the backseat. She quickly turned to her right, over her shoulder, to see what had happened. When she turned back around, she saw headlights coming toward her. Defendant quickly swerved to the left; her car skidded across Route 31, crossed the median and northbound lane of traffic, and hit a utility pole.

¶ 12 At around 2:20 a.m., emergency personnel were dispatched to a single-car accident with injuries and ejections at the crash site. The fates of the car's occupants were as follows:

1. Frank (age 17): killed on impact;

2. Merkel (age 14): killed on impact;

3. Nutoni (age 15): killed on impact;

4. Urso (age 16): killed on impact;

5. McGee (age 14): died seven days later;

6. Rexford (age 16): multiple surgeries to address a lacerated liver, broken pelvis, broken rib, and knee injury;

7. Dillon (age 16): three surgeries for a broken femur, a broken pelvis, two broken bones in his arm, torn muscles in his back, and a puncture wound to his shin; required treatments to learn how to walk again;

8. Larsen (age 15): arrived at the hospital with no pulse and significant blood loss; 12 surgeries to repair two broken legs, a broken hip, and a broken pelvis; suffered a head injury;

9. Defendant (age 23): a lacerated spleen, a broken clavicle, chest contusions, a scalp laceration, a fractured tailbone, and a fractured pelvis.

¶ 13 At 3:09 a.m., a trauma panel was administered to defendant; it later revealed that defendant's blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.124. At around 5:25 a.m., defendant consented to a blood draw, which showed her BAC to be 0.084. Using both samples, a State forensic toxicologist performed an extrapolation calculation to estimate that defendant's BAC at the time of the accident was between 0.114 and 0.144. Another State expert performed a similar extrapolation and estimated that defendant's BAC at the time of the accident was between 0.113 and 0.121. Defendant's expert estimated that defendant's BAC at the time of the accident was between 0.04 and 0.07, with one drink left to be absorbed (in other words, that her BAC did not peak until after the accident). He nevertheless agreed that the risk of a crash increases when one's BAC is 0.05 or higher.

¶ 14 Two accident reconstruction experts testified for the State that, before the collision, defendant's vehicle was traveling at least 68 miles per hour; the posted speed limit was 45 miles per hour. Defendant's expert testified that defendant's vehicle's "initial velocity" was 75 miles per hour. Further, a State expert testified that defendant's car struck the pole at 44 miles per hour; defendant's expert testified that defendant's car struck the pole at 58 miles per hour.

¶ 15 At the time of trial, the surviving passengers could not recall the car ride or accident. The trial court admitted as substantive evidence a statement that Rexford gave to police, in her hospital room the morning after the crash, wherein she described defendant as "driving like an idiot," repeatedly veering to the left, driving very fast, and purposefully taking very sharp turns.

ΒΆ 16 On June 30, 2010, after deliberating for 12 hours and asking the court several questions, the jury ...


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