The Rousso Santos-Sacramento-Jiminez huffing and dusting story: A tale of innocence, death and redemption on the North Shore?

Ten days ago- on Labor Day- five year old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento’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 a 2003 Lexus driven by Carly Rousso, an 18 year old Highland Park resident.  Jaclyn 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.

 The fatal collision

Carly Rousso had been proceeding east on Central Avenue and according to reliable sources swerved across two lanes of highway, five yards of parkway, hitting and dragging little Jaclyn, crashing into the building east of the CORBE building, and then rolling over Jaclyn again 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.

Carly Rousso was charged on the evening of the accident with a misdemeanor DUI and then booked and released on her own recognizance (“OR”), that is a $3000 OR bond. (Lake County prosecutors explained, without the results of the toxicology tests, that was the only charge supported by the evidence).

Setting the scene for felony charges

On Tuesday morning,  a Lake County circuit judge, on a Motion by Highland Park’s prosecutor, modified the bail from the $3000 OR bond to a $50,000 cash bond and set bail conditions that barred Carly Rousso from driving and  substantially curtailed the movements of Carly, requiring one of her parents to be with her at all times. Carly’s parents paid the requisite 10%, or $5,000, and she was released from jail in the afternoon.

Yesterday morning, a warrant was issued by the Lake County State’s Attorney for the arrest of Carly Rousso, raising bond to $500,000 cash, with standard bail restrictions, e.g. not leaving the state without permission of the court and continuing the customized bail restrictions, discussed in more detail here.  Since Carly’s parents had already paid $5,000, they had to pay “only” $45,000 more to bond Carly out, and Carly was released from jail yesterday afternoon when they made that payment.

A criminal information, filed to support the arrest warrant, charged Carly with five felony counts.  The alleged crime in all five counts is essentially that Carly Rousso knowingly drove a motor vehicle with difluoroethane in her blood and that that compound was ingested, inhaled or breathed for the purpose of inducing a “condition of intoxication, stupefication or irrational behavior,” —in short, getting high and getting by, as the song says, with a little help from ‘her friends.’” —and those actions were the proximate cause of the death of Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento.

Dusting and huffing by Carly Rousso

Assistant State’s Attorney Paul LaRue confirmed in a phone interview yesterday afternoon that the above means essentially that Carly Rousso had an aerosol chemical in her blood and that she most likely got that in her blood by sniffing an aerosol container or device to get high.  The aerosol chemical tends to give the sniffer a high and is often followed by the sniffer passing out. This behavior is known by the kids and law enforcement as “huffing,” or “dusting.”

The key but not only factor, said ASA LaRue, in proceeding with the felony charges were the blood test results showing the presence of the aerosol chemical in Carly Rousso’s body on September 3 at the time Rousso was driving the Lexis that hit and killed five year old Jaclyn Santos. The Lexis”black box,” confirmed that the auto had no mechanical difficulties that could have explained the erratic driving that caused the accident.

Driving with a “dust cleaner.”

Another key factor was the computer “dust cleaning” product that was found in her dad’s Lexis that Rousso was drivingwhen she hit and killed Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento on Labor Day. That computer dust matched the difluoroethane that was found in Rousso’s blood sample taken from her on Labor Day, as indicated by the blood tests done by the Illinois State crime lab-- the results of which were received by the Highland Park police and prosecutors this week.

ASA LaRue did not say but it is likely that witness information contained in the Major Crash Assistance Team (“MCAT”) report also was helpful to the State’s attorney decision to proceed with the filing of a five count felony warrant charging Rousso with the above-alleged crimes.

 Getting high and getting by with a little help from my  friends

Based on reliable sources, a reasonable scenario is that Carly Rousso became depressed-- perhaps over her pit bull nightmares, perhaps over the taunting of kids due to her pit bull attack scarring-- and sought some relief through a high. She may have driven to a friend’s home, sniffed some computer dust compound —felt good and jumped in the car and thought she could drive home. Alternatively, she may have “huffed” some more computer dust after she got in the car or while she was driving.

Carly was pointed in the direction of her home at the time of the accident and was about two miles from home. Perhaps she dozed off or passed out, the car veered sharply to the left—the Santos family was in the wrong place at the wrong time-- the sidewalk on the north side of 777 Central St. in Highland Park.  Carly’s Lexus hit and dragged Jaclyn—a dazed Carly woke up from the crash, felt tremendous remorse and said “I did it. I did it.”  She tried to save the day by performing CPR on Jacyln, but her efforts were to no avail. Jacyln was taken to the hospital and died 2 ½ hours later.

The judicial system takes over

Now the judicial system will kick in and see if it can do some justice.  One aspect of justice is retribution. Another is deterrence. Yet another is compensation.

ASA LaRue told this reporter yesterday afternoon he will seek an indictment in 60 days or so. That is, he will impanel a grand jury of 15 jurors and he will lay out his case to them and they will return a true bill, a bill of particulars that elaborate on the above and charge Carly Rousso with five felony counts related to DUI.

Indicting a ham sandwich

Defense counsel, the media and the public can’t be present when LaRue presents his witnesses to the grand jury, so the testimony goes in essentially unchallenged, without the benefit of cross-examination.   As the saying goes, you can “indict a ham sandwich. “ A true bill will be returned.

And unlike the alternative-- proceeding before a judge—in a grand jury, defense counsel, the media and the public are not present when the case is presented to the jury, so the defendants can’t use the information to prepare for their defense.  Eventually, some of this information may have to be made available to the defense, along with any exculpatory information, prior to the trial, but the bulk of it will not, and if it is made available, that will be done so with a substantial delay. Advantage, the State, i.e., the prosecution.

Finding contamination in the blood test?

Rousso has a right to a jury trial but her attorneys could waive it and ask for a judge or bench trial. They won’t in this case.  If Rousso’s attorneys can somehow challenge the accuracy of the blood tests (contamination, as in OJ), then they have a very good shot at getting at least one juror to find “reasonable doubt,” blocking a conviction and maybe acquitting.

The witnesses may not be that good. Their memories may not hold up. If any of that happens, it would be reasonable to expect prosecutor LaRue to offer Rousso a deal, say six years of jail time.

Let’s make a deal

Would that be fair? What would the victim’s family say?  They lost their daughter for life. The Rousso’s should lose theirs for six years? Would that be just?

What if they went to trial with weak witnesses and a less than perfect”blood test” case and the jury acquitted Carly, so she did no time. Would that be just?”

Using the Carly Rousso case to deter other deaths?

Will justice provide deterrence? While the story’s hot, should a public policy arm of the Lake County State’s Attorney office use it to promote deterrence by letting young students, potential users of these compounds, know what “huffing,” and “dusting,” can lead to.  “You dust, you huff, you kill somebody?  You spend 22 years, a quarter of century, in prison doing hard time.” [If convicted on all counts, Rousso could be sentenced to 26 years in prison, and would have to serve 85% of the sentence before being released].

Here is a nice poster to greet kids as they return to school this week:

Top of the poste: a good looking boy and girl, doing some huffing and dusting.

Bottom of the poster: “You dust, you huff-- to get a ten minute high?  You kill somebody dusting and huffing-- you spend 22 years in prison doing hard time.”

You go into prison a youthful looking teen, with your whole life in front of you—you come out a middle aged person, with no chance for a family, for kids, for a life. You ruin your parents’ life, emotionally and financially.  You take a small kid’s life.” You have to ask yourself—is it worth it? Are you feeling lucky? Well, are you, bucky?

Community service by Carly Rousso?

Here is an idea:  If Carly is convicted or pleads guilty, getting a sentence of X years,  she can knock 5 to 15% off her sentence by doing 100 appearances at high schools around the state, saying something comparable to the above described poster. She would be monitored at all time by law enforcement and returned to jail in between high school appearances. Prosecutors would give an evaluation of her performance before the high school students to the court before the judge issued his final sentence.

A four way deal: Roussos, Santos-Sacramento-Jiminez, the Insurance company and the Criminal Court?

Finally, there is the matter of compensation. Carly apparently does not have a lot of her own wealth, but her parents may have considerable wealth. The parents may have civil liability exposure to the Santos-Sacramento family. Even though Carly is not a minor, her parents may have some financial responsibility for her actions if she was living in their home and they in some way facilitated the actions by Carly which resulted in the death of Jaclyn.  For example, they apparently consented to the use by Carly of their car. Did they know there was a chance she would “dust and drive.”

Under the law, could a criminal court Lake County circuit court judge consider a voluntary payment by the Rousso family to the Santos-Sacramento-Jiminez family as a mitigating factor when deciding an appropriate sentence for Carly?  Could such a payment made by the Roussos under the supervision of a criminal judge’s court order be used as a defense to a civil lawsuit by the Santos-Sacramento family, or could they just waive their rights to such as part of the four way agreement ?

Enter the Plaintiff’s PI lawyer

Indeed, just yesterday a civil lawsuit was filed by Modesta Sacramento Jimenez and her husband, Tomas, naming Carly as the only defendant, and asking for compensation for Carly’s actions, with Carly’s insurance company being the targeted source for financial recovery, according to attorney Robert Baizer, whose law firm filed the lawsuit. Perhaps the insurance company, the Roussos, the Santos- Sacramento family and the State’s Attorney’s office could work out a mutually beneficial financial and sentencing arrangement under the supervision of the criminal court judge.  Would that be legal?

Finally, the Highland Park community started a fund for the Santos-Sacramento family last week and it appeared well on its way to receiving 100Kand growing rapidly.  Maybe the Santos-Sacramento should drop its lawsuit for now, seek to have the criminal court oversee the transfer of wealth from the Rousso family to the Santos-Sacramento family, as outlined above and the private donations from the Highland Park community to Santos-Sacramento should be returned to the donors.

Economics trumps all?

Is this yet one more example of the famous Coase theorem: if transactions costs are zero, the assignment of liability does not affect the allocation of resources?

More on Ronald Coase- Nobel Prize winner in economics-- and his theory of social cost, the Rousso-Santos story, politics, public policy and much, much more  is available bywatching Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz, or you can watch "Public Affairs," on Cable on Ch. 19 at 8:30 pm on Monday and Wednesday in Highland Park/Highwood or in Chicago, Rockford, Aurora and in many Chicago Metro areas as set out in a detailed airing schedule here.


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