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Local

Wayne teen sentenced to probation in fatal crash

ST. CHARLES – After hearing what Onofrio “Josh” Lorusso has done since his arrest in a drunken crash that killed his friend, a judge Thursday spared him prison time.

Circuit Judge Timothy Sheldon instead sentenced Lorusso, 19, of Wayne, to 180 days in jail and three years’ probation for the crash last year that killed 17-year-old Cameron Godee of West Chicago.

During Thursday’s four-hour hearing, Sheldon heard from several emotional witnesses, including Lorusso, in the packed courtroom. He also viewed a DVD of one of four of Lorusso’s school presentations, discussing the dangers of drinking and driving.

The presentations were not ordered by Sheldon, and he praised Lorusso for his efforts.

Lorusso pleaded guilty in March to aggravated drunken driving and reckless homicide charges in the June 14, 2009, crash on Royal Fox Drive in St. Charles. Prosecutors said Lorusso’s blood alcohol level was 0.227 – nearly three times the state’s legal limit for drivers old enough to drink – and he had marijuana in his system.

Two other teens – Chelsea Mertz and Cameron Kumerow – were injured in the crash. Mertz suffered a brain injury and has yet to regain her memory of the night or her sense of smell. Kumerow broke his leg in three places, according to Thursday’s testimony.

The four teens were at Godee’s home that weekend, drinking and partying because his parents weren’t home, according to police testimony on Thursday.

Before Lorusso left to drive away from Godee’s home, another teen at the party asked him not to drive, St. Charles Detective Dan Kuttner testified.

“’What? Do you think I’m going to get a DUI?’” Lorusso said to the teen before leaving, Kuttner said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Nemura Pencyla asked Sheldon to sentence Lorusso to 10 years in prison for his “selfish” actions.

“This community has been ripped apart because of his selfish actions,” Pencyla said. “Send a message and impose a just sentence.”

But after hearing Lorusso’s tearful testimony, and hearing about the school presentations, Sheldon decided against prison.

“This is one of the hardest cases I’ve had to decide in this courtroom,” Sheldon said.

“This is the tale of two families torn apart by a nightmare.”

Sheldon commended Lorusso for his statement, which included apologies to all the victims and their families, as well as his own family.

Sheldon also recalled a similar case nearly nine years ago in which he sentenced a college student to probation instead of prison.

“I was ridiculed and scorned by other judges,” he said. “But that college graduate is now working on her doctorate in sociology. I think Josh is of the same caliber.”

Lorusso told the court during his statement that the crash has changed his outlook.

“Before this accident, my goal was to be wealthy, to buy a big house,” he tearfully testified. “I realize I was taking life for granted. I have a new goal in life, and that is to save lives.

“This is something I’ll live with for the rest of my life and it will haunt me,” Lorusso added.

Mary Godee also cried on the witness stand as she read her victim-impact statement, along with those of other family members.

She described her son as a clever, compassionate teenager who excelled at sports and planned to play rugby while attending college in Arkansas and eventually join the U.S. Coast Guard.

“He was a magical young man and would have been something special,” Mary Godee said. “This we have no doubt.”

She also described how life has changed for her and Cameron’s dad, Greg Godee. She has been diagnosed with clinical depression, and she said her husband seems to have entered a “black hole” since his son died.

The Godees sobbed after Sheldon announced he would spare Lorusso prison time. Mary Godee had to be helped out of the courtroom.

Lorusso’s parents also shed tears Thursday after hearing the sentence, but they were tears of relief.

Sheldon ordered that the first 120 days of Lorusso’s 180-day sentence be served in the first year of probation. The remaining 60 days must be served in summer 2011 and 2012, but one day can be traded in for each school presentation Lorusso makes in that time, Sheldon said.

He also ordered Lorusso pay court fines and costs, and about $30,000 in restitution to the Godee family.

Each of the victims’ families are suing Lorusso. The lawsuits remain pending in civil court.

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