By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Scarlet D. McKinzie will serve two years in state prison for being under the influence of alcohol when her van struck a Teutopolis High School bus last February that sent students and adults to a hospital emergency room.
The 37-year-old Mattoon woman pleaded guilty in September to Aggravated Driving Under the Influence in Moultrie County Circuit Court. Circuit Judge Hugh Finson pronounced the sentence in a courthouse at Sullivan during an October 17 sentencing hearing. It included testimony by four Teutopolis High School students injured on the afternoon of Feb. 10 when McKinzie ran her van through a stop sign at the crossroads of the Bruce-Findlay Road and Illinois Route 32, located between Windsor and Sullivan.
Moultrie County State’s Attorney Jeremy Richey said the students recalled what they experienced during the crash and what injuries they suffered. The students included THS basketball players and cheerleaders headed to a basketball game that night in Lincoln. Luckily, they and adults, including coaches, cheerleader sponsors and the bus driver, did not suffer life-threatening injuries when the bus rolled on its side after the crash.
However, some of the victims are still suffering problems from their injuries. Some of the crash victims that February day were taken to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Coles County, while others sought treatment when they returned to Effingham County.
Moultrie County Sheriff Sgt. Mark Risley also offered testimony on McKinzie’s condition at the accident scene and later at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur where she was being treated for injuries from the crash.
A blood alcohol test on McKinzie showed a reading of .25, which is more than three times the legal limit established for being DUI, in Illinois. The test also showed traces of cocaine in her bloodstream.
The crash report compiled by law enforcement noted a half-full bottle of Vodka on the passenger side floorboard of the van. There was also an empty bottle of whiskey on the rear seat floorboard of McKinzie’s vehicle.
Another aspect of the case was a convenience store surveillance tape that showed the force of impact when the van hit the bus. The crash occurred near that store and the tape received a wide viewing on the Internet hours after the crash.
Records show this was not McKinzie’s first DUI offense. Richey confirmed she had been previously tried for DUI in Moultrie County and faced court supervision. She was also charged with DUI in Coles County and had her license suspended, but that case did not result in a conviction.
The evidence, testimony and previous court record had Judge Finson decide that incarceration was needed for the defendant. He chose two years, but the maximum sentence for Aggravated DUI in this case was only three years. McKinzie was also ordered to pay $1,000 as partial restitution for the local fire department’s response to the accident scene.
“I argued for a sentence of three years,” Richey said. “But I’m at least happy she went to prison.”
When released from prison, a DUI conviction in this type of case can make it difficult for someone to regain their driving privileges.
“Once you’re convicted of DUI, your driver’s license is revoked. You can seek reinstatement through the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. That is not decided by the court,” he explained.