Highland Park’s death of innocence investigation-The Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento story

Tragic death of five year old Jaclyn in Highland Park

Carly Rousso was given a DUI citation at Evanston Hospital on Monday night, Labor Day, September 3,  eight days ago and then booked and released on an own recognizance (“OR”) $3000 bond, for driving under the influence a 2003 Lexis Coupe registered to her father.  Carly, with her father's Lexis, hit and killed five year old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, whose funeral was held yesterday at St. James Church in Highwood.  The burial will be in Mexico.

Jaclyn’s mother, Modesta Sacramento-Jiminez, was walking on the north side of the sidewalk near the CORBE building at 777 Central Avenue in Highland Park, with Jaclyn and her two younger brothers (3 and 6) when Jaclyn was hit by the Lexus driven by Carly.  Modesto incurred several broken limbs and was released from the hospital recently. Her two young sons were treated at the hospital and released. Her daughter died within hours of being hit by the Lexis driven by the troubled 18 year old Carly, who was herself a victim of tragic, random violence (mauled by a pit pull)  in the last few years.

Highland Park City Manager David Knapp, who was on the scene of the accident within ten minutes of its occurrence and had notified each City Council member within an hour of the accident, said to this reporter as we sat in his City Hall office yesterday, “I don’t think there is anything worse in life than losing a child.  My kids are forty, or so. If I lost one of them, I don’t know what I’d do.”

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Dangerous combo: youth, drugs and a lethal weapon

Carly was proceeding east on Central Avenue at 2:30 pm on Labor Day and according to reliable sources apparently swerved across two lanes of highway, five yards of parkway, hitting and dragging little Jaclyn, crashing into the building west of the CORBE building, and perhaps rebounding off that building and rolling over Jaclyn before hitting the CORBE building and coming to rest near the CORBE building, when she reportedly  jumped out of the car, yelling "I did it, I did it," and desperately tried to save Jaclyn by giving her CPR.

Apparently, fire department medics and police who arrived at the scene within minutes of the accident, did not suspect alcohol intoxication by Carly as a cause of the accident, but did suspect the Highland Park teen of driving under the influence of aerosol chemicals, marijuana and/or other controlled substances.   For that reason, it appears that the police may have lacked probable cause to request a field sobriety test (which focuses on alcohol), but did have a sufficient basis for issuing a DUI, which allowed them to require a blood and urine test when Carly was taken to the hospital that afternoon.

Further, any statements Carly gave to the police at the hospital were videotaped, as required in cases of potential confessions related to vehicular homicide and other criminal acts resulting in death. Carly's lawyer joined her at the hospital before she was released.

Misdemeanor DUI in a vehicular homicide, a slap on the wrist? 

The accident has been investigated from the outset by the Major Crash Accident Team (“MCAT”), which consists of select police officers from Highland Park and surrounding communities. The State’s Attorney office, primarily Assistant State’s Attorney Paul LaRue and First Assistant to State’s Attorney Mike Waller, Jeff Padlick, have counseled MCAT, Deputy Police Chief Schwarz (Acting Chief last week while Chief of Police Paul Shafer was on vacation) and lead Highland Park police investigator Cameron from time to time, on legal matters relating to collection of evidence, discussions with witnesses, etc.

However, in large part, the State’s Attorney’s office of Lake County has not been reviewing the evidence compiled by MCAT.  Their preference is to review it all at one time, along with the toxology report, the black box information and make a decision as to which charges are warranted by the evidence after all the evidence has been compiled and reviewed. The police have recovered the “black box,” from the Lexis Coupe and that will tell them if and when the air bag was deployed and if there were any mechanical or brake failures which would cause loss of control by the driver of the car.

As of  the  night of the accident, Labor day, based on a very preliminary look at the evidence, the office of the Lake County State’s Attorney was very cautious in terms of prosecution and imposed very light bond conditions for Carly Rousso.

Teen Carly Rousso: An affluent Highland Park house arrest

The law firm of Smith and LaLuzerne, based in Waukegan, has been retained, for the last quarter of century, or longer, by the City of Highland Park to prosecute the City’s misdemeanors.   Apparently, after reflecting on the matter with the police, and with some pressure from the Mayor to impose more strict bail conditions on Carly Rousso, attorney Lawrence LaLuzerne, presented a motion, in Lake County Circuit Court yesterday, to modify the bail conditions. The defense agreed and the Judge approved the entry of these supplemental or modified bail conditions within minutes of their being raised in Court.

The 18 year old Rousso’s life, for the time being, was essentially placed in the custody  of her parents. Defendant Rousso appeared voluntarily in court, with both parents present.  The parents acknowledged they would enforce the terms of bail, including that Rousso would not operate any motor vehicles and she would be constrained to stay at home from 9 pm to 7 am. Further, Carly Rousso will only be allowed to leave home to attend classes at the College of Lake County and to attend her intensive “treatment sessions,” with her counselor. Further, Carly must be accompanied by one of her parents at all times.

Carly Rousso will be monitored by the Lake County probation department's Pre-Trial bond services, which will include random blood, breath and urine tests for alcohol and controlled substance use, and Carly will bear all costs of that monitoring. Carly’s bond was increased yesterday from a $3000 Own Recognizance (“OR”) bond to a $50,000 cash bond. Presumably, the bond is not a problem for Carly’s parents, Gabrielle and David Rousso, who are prominent civically in Highland Park and are  Executive Director and board member, respectively, for the Art Center- Highland Park. The Roussos live with their daughter Carly, at least recently, in perhaps the wealthiest part of affluent Highland Park, an area in between St. Johns and Sheridan roads, and about a half mile north of Central avenue,  a location about two miles from the scene of the accident.  The houses  in that area ooze opulence, but as they say, you can't buy happiness--well, not always.

Enter Mayor Rotering: A Democratic pol?  

Mayor Rotering, a Democrat, is supporting Chris Kennedy to replace Republican State’s Attorney Mike Waller, who is stepping down in January after 22 years in the office, and Republican Mike Nerheim is running to succeed Waller.   She has received little support from her colleagues for her criticism of the Office of the Lake County State’s Attorney in this matter.  Rotering, who is compensated in the amount of $13.5 K per year for a “volunteer” type position that many think is or should be pro bono, told the Highland Park residents, two days after the vehicular homicide occurred, that “the City Council, staff and I are frustrated by the delayed manner in which this case is being handled.”

However, the City of Highland Park’s longtime  regular counsel, Lawrence Laluzerne, whose firm prosecutes all the firm’s misdemeanors, including Rousso’s DUI, stated in an interview with this reporter yesterday, “The State’s Attorney and police have handled this matter properly.”

Highland Park’s police chief, Paul Shafer, who is hired by the Mayor and her colleagues on the City Council, responded to my inquiry yesterday in a face to face interview as to whether he was satisfied with the handling of the Rousso matter by the Lake County State’s Attorney office by saying, “I think they followed protocol.”

Indeed, even the City of Highland Park’s City Manager, David Knapp, who is the equivalent in the City to Rotering's  CEO, did not have any strong criticism for the State’s Attorney’s office. By way of defense of his Mayor, who is the equivalent, perhaps, to a Chairman of the Board, Knapp said “Something seems wrong that a situation like this could occur and [the Driver] wouldn’t be in jail.” But, he went on to say that in part that reflects the emotions we have from watching legal situations handled on TV, where things seem to work out the right way. He acknowledged he had no real experience in such matters on which he could base the conclusion that Carly Rousso should be sitting in jail, based on the evidence that the State's Attorney has, which as far as we know, is prior to obtaining the toxicology results.

Did the Lake County State’s Attorney rightfully “undercharge?”

The almost 72 year old Highand Park City Manager Knapp, who came to his position in Highland Park this spring (in part to be closer to his grandchildren who live there) but who has been doing city management much of his career in California and Colorado, says he understands from his discussions with Deputy police chief Schwarz, First Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Padlick and Assistant State’s Attorney LaRue (lead prosecutor on this matter) that if you don’t “undercharge” initially, you risk having the entire matter dismissed, if the toxicology tests turn out not to support a felony charge.

In his defense of Mayor Rotering, City Manager Knapp said, “She felt that she needed to make sure that all that could be done was being done,” by the office of the Lake County State’s Attorney to prosecute this matter. Yet, Rotering, a former attorney at the worldwide law firm of McDermott and Emery and a graduate of the top ten University of Chicago Law School, seems to have less of an understanding of phrases such as “Presumed Innocent,”  “Probable cause,” and “completing an investigation,” than does her own City Manager, non-lawyer Knapp.  Rotering has declined interview requests from this reporter for the last week, but did suggest she might answer questions if they were submitted to her in writing.

The scent of a felony charge: Too little Justice for Jaclyn and too much for Carly?

A fair reading of the above suggests that it is likely the blood tests for Ms. Rousso will be completed by the Illinois State crime lab very soon, perhaps this week and those results, along with the remainder of the MCAT investigation, which  will include information from the Lexis Coupe’s black box, will likely lead the Lake County State’s attorney to upgrade the charges (likely this week or next) from misdemeanor DUI to felony aggravated DUI, which  carries a potential sentence of three to fourteen years. But, clearly the fat lady hasn’t sung in this matter just yet. Nevertheless, she is surely warming up while she waits in the wings. More importantly, this reporter’s conclusion includes the word “likely,” twice.  Real journalism, unlike that practiced by the mainstream media, recognizes that the world is a stochastic place, where probabilities, not certainty, reign supreme. Now, that’s a fact, which you will ignore at your peril.

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