Drinking alcohol and driving don’t mix well, and neither do DUI charges and other felony crimes. A Chicago man learned this this hard way this week after being sentenced to 34 years in prison for drunk driving which resulted in the death of a young woman and unrelated sexual assault charges.
The Chicago Tribune reports that 47-year old David Soto hit and killed 24-year-old Justyna Palka in 2011, when he was driving a tour bus at the intersection of Illinois Street and Columbus drive in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. Mr. Soto had cocaine in his system at the time of the fatal accident and was charged with aggravated DUI. According to chicagobreakingnews.com, at the time of Mr. Soto’s arrest he was also a suspect in an investigation into the sexual assault of two young females. He was subsequently charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse and predatory sexual abuse.
Mr. Soto must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, which is nearly 29 years. Since the loss of their loved one, Ms. Palka’s family was engaged in a lawsuit with Pontarelli Group, the tour bus company that employed Mr. Soto. This year, in August, the family settled with the tour bus company for a whopping $6.75 million dollars.
Mr. Soto’s case demonstrates two things: first, drunk driving incidents, especially involving the death or injury of another person are taken very seriously in Illinois; and, second, a drunk driving accident can result in both a criminal conviction against the driver on behalf of the state, and a civil lawsuit against the driver, or his or her employer, on behalf of the victim or his or her family.
Under Illinois DUI laws, a person is guilty of aggravated drunk driving when he or she drives under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or intoxicating compounds (or a combination of those substances) and certain aggravating factors are present. Those aggravating factors include:
- Two or more drunk driving convictions;
- Driving a school bus with children under the age of 18;
- Causing a drunk driving accident that results in injury or disability to another person;
- Drunk driving in a school speed zone with a posted speed limit of 20 miles per hour;
- Causing a drunk driving accident with a snowmobile or boat that results in the death of another person.
There are many other factors that constitute aggravated DUI. It is important to note that an aggravated DUI conviction comes with increased penalties and consequences, including a longer jail sentence and a potential felony criminal record.
It is not entirely rare that a drunk driving victim, or his or her family, brings a lawsuit against a drunk driver. A drunk driver may be held personally liable for personal injury claims made by the victim or wrongful death claims made on behalf of the victim by the victim’s family. A personal injury or wrongful death suit is made in civil court and can be incredibly costly to defend or settle. If the victim or his or her family wins, a judgment may be entered against the drunk driver.
If you have been charged with violating Illinois criminal laws, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Goldman & Associates today for a confidential consultation.