No matter how you define extraordinary, Vasquez case ‘once in a blue moon’
By Denise Crosby
Aurora Beacon News, Tuesday, May 15, 2012
There were a couple of things that surprised the Second Appellate Court security officer when he showed up for work Monday morning.
The size of the crowd that gathered in Elgin to hear oral arguments for the sentencing portion of the Sandra Vasquez case was the largest he’s ever seen. It was what one of his colleagues described as a “once in a blue moon” turnout.
Yet despite that huge number — dozens more chairs had to be brought in to the courtroom — the security officer also did not expect the two opposing sides to be so well behaved or respectful toward each other.
On one aisle of the courtroom were about 30 friends and family members of Vasquez, the young Aurora woman now serving 15 years in prison for aggravated drunken driving and reckless homicide. On the other side were the loved ones of the five Oswego teens who died after Vasquez crashed her car into a pole on that cold morning in February of 2007.
Those of us who have been following the Vasquez case all these years were not taken aback in the least by the size of the crowd or how they behaved. Brought together by a night of bad decisions that turned into tragic consequences, they have all been through hell together. And both sides understand how the other half is still haunted and hurting.
Donna Dwyer, mother of 17-year-old Matt Frank, who was killed in the crash, even remarked she’d rather be grieving the death of a child than living the nightmare Sandra’s mom, Monica Vasquez, must be going through.
It is an unusually compelling case on so many different levels.
So it’s probably also not a surprise the word “extraordinary” is what brought them all together again — more than five years after the accident and almost two years after the trial.
In 2006, a revamped state law involving aggravated DUI allowed judges to give probation in cases they believe involve “extraordinary circumstances.” But in front of a panel of three judges Monday, appellate defender Sherry Silver argued the law is not constitutional because legislators didn’t define what the term meant.
Appellate prosecutor Scott Jacobson countered that vagueness is intentional, and that it’s up to the judge to determine if something is extraordinary or not.
Watching and listening to arguments whip back and forth like a ping pong ball between two sharp attorneys and three equally sharp and more experienced judges was pretty extraordinary in itself.
Trying to sum it up in a few graphs is next to impossible. So is trying to figure out how those judges will eventually rule.
Later, standing in the foyer outside the courtroom talking to the victims’ families, Jacobson seemed confident the court’s questions reflected little more than curiosity over the constitutionality question — and that the ruling would go in their favor.
On the other side of the lobby, defense attorney Kathleen Colton cautioned the Vasquez camp that you can’t tell how the judges will rule by the questions asked. And even if it doesn’t go in their favor, the case is far from over.
“Our goal,” she insisted, “is to get this in front of the Supreme Court.”
It’s a legal fight that could draw these two groups together for years to come.
“I can’t believe this is still going on,” an aunt of one of the victims said, her face reflecting the grief, bitterness and emotional rawness still so close to the surface.
Then she and the rest of the crowd filed out of the Appellate Court building the same way they entered.
Hoping it will be the last time. Knowing it probably isn’t.