By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
The woman who crashed into a Teutopolis High School bus in February could face up to three years in state prison after pleading guilty to a charge of Aggravated Driving Under the Influence last week in a Moultrie County courtroom.
Scarlett D. McKinzie, 37, of Mattoon, pleaded guilty on Sept. 12 to DUI of alcohol while not covered by a liability insurance policy.
On Feb. 10, McKinize ran a stop sign in a van and crashed into the side of the school bus, which was carrying Teutopolis basketball players, cheerleaders and coaches headed to a basketball game in Lincoln. Many THS students and adults, as well as McKinzie, were injured in the crash at a crossroads along Illinois Route 32 between Windsor and Sullivan. Thankfully, no one suffered life-threatening injuries.
The impact caused the bus to turn on its side along the highway beside a convenience store, which captured the crash on a surveillance camera. Several bus victims were taken for treatment to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, while others sought treatment in Effingham County.
McKinzie’s plea of guilty led to the dismissal of several charges, which Moultrie County State’s Attorney Jeremy Richey said was standard procedure on different DUI cases. The dismissed charges included two aggravated DUI counts for no valid insurance, DUI of alcohol, DUI of alcohol or intoxicating compound or drug relating to a narcotic, failure to reduce speed, operation of an uninsured motor vehicle, transportation or carrying alcoholic liquor by driver, and disobeying a stop sign.
During the court hearing in the courthouse at Sullivan, McKinzie offered her guilty plea to Judge Hugh Finson, who accepted it and set a sentencing hearing for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 17. It was reported in court that the defendant’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was .25 or more than three times the limit defined as being intoxicated under Illinois law.
Richey said he is pleased with the guilty plea involving a school bus crash that could have been more tragic.
“We’re thankful there were no deaths or life-threating injuries,” Richey said.
Teutopolis Unit 50 School District Superintendent Bill Fritcher said even with the guilty plea the effect of the defendant’s action will remain with victims for years to come.
“Ms. McKinzie’s guilty plea may bring an end to legal proceedings, but our students and coaches may have emotional and physical scars for a lifetime. I said the day of the accident that I hope for a full recovery for Ms. McKenzie, and I still mean that today. There are certainly lessons to be learned from all adverse situations, and I hope our young people now have a better understanding about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”
A felony pre-sentence report will be prepared by the Moultrie County Probation office prior to the sentencing hearing in October. That report will help Judge Finson decide on the sentence for McKinzie. The Class Felony count she pleaded guilty to has a maximum prison sentence of three years, as well as 480 days of community service. The fine and any fees will also be determined by the judge.
Standard practice for felony sentencing hearings has the prosecution offering testimony by victims of the crime. Richey is encouraging adults and teenagers injured in the bus crash to contact his office to testify how the crash has affected them.
“We’re reaching out to anyone who was injured on the bus. They can contact the State’s Attorney office if they want to testify,” Richey said.
The Moultrie County State’s Attorney office can be reached at 217-728-4353 on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.