URBANA – Glynis Barker has to take comfort in whatever little things she can these days to overcome the grief of losing her 8-year-old son to a man who hit him, while speeding in his car, then didn't stop.
"I was glad he got the maximum, that people who are negligent behind the wheel will get punished," said Barker of Ogden, the mother of Brandon Siuts, who died of head injuries a day after being hit by a car driven by McKinley Duncan, 23.
Brandon was riding a skateboard at a friend's home in the 1600 block of Sheridan Road, Champaign, about 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 18 when he went down the driveway and into the street, where he was hit by Duncan, who listed an address in the 2500 block of West Springfield Avenue, Champaign.
Duncan, the father of two children, had been drinking beers at a friend's home, was speeding and had no insurance. He testified he knew he hit the child but said he "panicked" and kept going. He stopped a couple blocks away and called his mother in Chicago, who urged him to return to the scene, which he did 20 minutes later.
Under questioning by his attorney, Walter Ding of Champaign, Duncan said he was aware he had seriously injured Brandon. Ding asked him what he was thinking in the interval between hitting Brandon and returning to the scene.
"I was thinking about my kids, kids, life in general. I knew everything was going to change from there," said Duncan, who said he approached a police officer and told him he had hit the boy because he knew it was the right thing to do.
He was taken to the police station where he performed field sobriety tests and later to the hospital, where he gave blood and urine samples that showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.046 percent at 5 p.m., below the 0.08 percent limit to be presumed intoxicated. He was eventually ticketed for failure to give aid or information in an accident involving death and having no proof of insurance.
In April, he pleaded guilty to failing to give information, a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 364 days in the county jail.
On Wednesday morning, before a packed courtroom of more than 100 supporters of Barker and her two daughters – most of them sobbing after hearing Barker's victim impact statement – Judge Rich Klaus imposed the maximum.
Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber had recommended 180 days in jail and four years of probation so authorities can keep an eye on Duncan. She argued that the fact that he'd been drinking, was driving without insurance, was speeding and had unpaid fines from prior traffic convictions were all aggravating.
"It's clear the community is outraged. The sentence should mirror that outrage," Weber said.
Ding argued his client had a "lapse of judgment" for 20 minutes and that's what he should be punished for. He noted Duncan had been enrolled in Parkland College but dropped out to work to support his girlfriend and their children, ages 1 and 2. He's been employed at PlastiPak Packaging for 2 years. And he argued that Duncan, who had earlier called himself "a real good guy who panicked" was genuinely remorseful.
"It's important for the court to distance itself from the emotion apparent in this courtroom," he said, calling the incident a "tragic accident."
Ding made no specific recommendations but urged a lesser term of probation and jail time.
But Klaus said the events that led to Brandon's death were not a tragic accident.
"Mr. Duncan set out on a course of events which caused this to happen. It's beyond negligence," Klaus said.
"I would give him probation if I thought it would help," said Klaus, who noted that Duncan had ignored prior court orders in traffic cases by not paying fines and continued to drive without insurance.
Court records showed that Duncan had a prior criminal conviction from Cook County in 2001 for possession of a controlled substance and other traffic convictions for speeding, driving with expired registration and operating an uninsured vehicle. He also has two unresolved cases for possession of a controlled substance and illegal transportation of alcohol, both of which occurred before he hit Brandon Siuts.
Whether or not Duncan will serve the entire 364 days or be able to earn good time is the subject of a July 20 hearing before Klaus. Ding requested time to research the issue.
Mother describes impact of son's death
Glynis Barker, the mother of the late Brandon Siuts, had never given such a difficult speech. In court Wednesday, she faced the man who hit her 8-year-old son, killing him, and told him what she thought.
Reading for several minutes from a prepared statement, Barker, the mother of two older daughters, said through choked sobs that her son was a happy boy who knew he was loved.
Most of the more than 100 friends and family of Barker who had packed the courtroom cried audibly as she read.
Even McKinley Duncan, the defendant, cried and repeatedly said "I'm sorry" as she struggled to get out her thoughts.
"McKinley Duncan ... your negligent actions changed my life forever. I am now a mother who has had her only son taken away from her. I am now a mother who was stripped of someone to love, care for and teach. I am someone different now – once young at heart, I now feel old from grief and sorrow."
Barker then went on to tell Duncan how lucky he was that his blood alcohol level was low enough that he didn't get ticketed for driving under the influence, that the police couldn't say how fast he was going because there were no skid marks, and that he returned to the scene fast enough to receive a ticket for failing to render aid, a misdemeanor and not a felony.
"My son Brandon, however, was not so lucky," she said, recounting in graphic detail the fatal injuries he sustained.
"He died less than 25 hours later. And I was forced to do things no mother should have to do."
"McKinley Duncan, because of your negligent actions, I was forced to ask my two daughters to say goodbye to their 8-year-old brother before he died. I was forced to make a decision to donate his organs. I was forced to tell my parents that their grandson was dead. I was forced to go to a cemetery and pick out a burial plot, forced to go to a funeral home and buy a casket to fit my little boy in. I was forced to go home and pack up my little boy's clothes and toys, forced to sit alone and try to remember the sound of his voice. I was forced to deal with a huge amount of bills from the ambulance, emergency room, hospital and funeral, a total of almost $50,000.
"Then I was forced to have to deal with you. After discovering your lengthy record of driving infractions, I was forced to step up and make sure that my little boy's death did not go unanswered. I was forced to read through the police reports and find out that out of the four people in your vehicle, only one asked about my son. That one wasn't you. You only asked about your car and if you could get your iPod out of it because you needed your music. Well, I need my son. But because of you, I do not have him any longer."
After the hearing, Barker said her son's heart valves and eyes were taken for transplant and she knows that his eyes were donated to another child.
"It makes us comforted to know his beautiful brown eyes are helping someone else," she said.
– mary schenk