Judge blasts colleagues in cocaine case over fatal crash
URBANA — A federal judge in Urbana on Friday lambasted colleagues in the justice system for not arresting a known drug dealer before he killed one woman and seriously injured four others in a car crash in Champaign in 2009.
"I feel blood and stain on the federal court. I feel we were trying to get a bigger buy for a bigger sentence," said U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey about David McClain.
McClain, 29, formerly of Savoy and Champaign, was to have been sentenced Friday for distributing crack cocaine in Urbana in 2009, but McCuskey took himself off the case without imposing sentence.
But before doing so, he laid out in painstaking detail during a 75-minute hearing the procedural history of the three-count drug case to which McClain pleaded guilty in December.
McClain is currently serving a 20-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident that happened more than two years ago.
On Nov. 23, 2009, Yingbo Zhou, 26, a University of Illinois graduate student from China, was killed when the Honda Civic she was a back-seat passenger in was hit from behind by McClain on Interstate 74 east of Neil Street. Four others in the car were injured, one critically.
Driving a Cadillac Escalade at an estimated 100 mph, McClain took off and wasn't found by police for 14 hours.
At the time of the crash, McClain had been the subject on an ongoing drug investigation by Urbana police, Champaign County sheriff's deputies, and agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who knew he had sold crack cocaine to a police informant on multiple occasions in 2009. McClain was also on supervised release for a 2002 federal drug conviction.
But it wasn't until after Ms. Zhou's death that federal authorities took steps to revoke McClain's supervised release in the 2002 case and indicted him on three counts of distribution of crack cocaine for sales that he made in Urbana on Sept. 24, Oct. 28, and Nov. 18, 2009, the last one being just five days before the fatal collision.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz also filed, the day after the crash, a single count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance alleging the Sept. 24. 2009, cocaine sale in Urbana. That charge was dismissed when McClain pleaded to leaving the scene of the crash.
"In 2009, David McClain was clearly out of control. He made the choice of going back into the business of selling drugs regularly," McCuskey said Friday.
While selling drugs, the judge noted, McClain continued to regularly attend a court-sponsored program designed to help him make correct choices "to impress the probation office."
"That is outrageous," he said.
"If I sound angry, I am angry. The system failed in this case. He's being surveilled. He's buying, buying, buying. When does the petition (to revoke his release) get filed? After there's a death on I-74," the judge said.
Further, the government agreed as part of McClain's guilty plea in the drug case not to object to a sentence that would run at the same time as his sentence in state court, which will amount to only 9 years given credit for good time. That's because Rietz intended for the federal and state sentences to run concurrently when she negotiated his sentence in state court, explained U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller, who prosecuted McClain.
McCuskey pointedly asked Miller why McClain wasn't stopped sooner.
"How many more buys were they going to do before somebody pulled the trigger on him in the grand jury or by revocation?"
Miller responded that it's rare for his office to file charges based on only one or two drug purchases recorded by police.
"It's typical when we do surveillance that we hope to learn more to determine where the defendant is getting his drugs. Three buys is not that unusual," he told the judge.
After questioning attorneys and hearing their recommendations that McClain receive 12 years in prison, McCuskey declared he would send the case to Judge Michael Mihm in Peoria, who sentenced McClain in the 2002 case.
"I will give you a big break," McCuskey told McClain. "Because of my personal feelings, I cannot be fair to you."
McCuskey had the authority to make the drug case sentence consecutive to the state court sentence and called the proposal to make it run concurrent "not appropriate or reasonable."
Eleven months before Ms. Zhou's death, the daughter of McCuskey's administrative assistant was killed by a drunken driver in a grisly head-on crash on I-74 not far from where Ms. Zhou died.
"Unfortunately, this is a case that comes too close to home," he said.
McCuskey said he "could not agree more" with the probation officer who, in her pre-sentence investigation analysis, said that neither the public nor the families of Ms. Zhou and those injured would believe justice was served if McClain received a sentence for his drug dealing that would run concurrent with the leaving-the-scene sentence.
No date was set for McClain's next court appearance.