Champaign man gets 14 years in fatal DUI

Champaign man gets 14 years in fatal DUI

URBANA — Two young men whose lives tragically intertwined on a city street in Urbana last fall had much in common: popularity among friends, industry, a desire to get a good education, and loving families. They had also both been drinking the night their paths met.

One was killed; the other is now headed to prison for 14 years.

On Thursday, Champaign County Judge John Kennedy said that in spite of overwhelmingly glowing reports about Albert Fleming, he could not sentence the 21-year-old man to probation for causing the death of Anthony Pauls because it would lessen the seriousness of what he had done.

Fleming was convicted in June by a jury of aggravated driving under the influence for causing the death of Mr. Pauls, 22, and of leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

The incident happened Oct. 13, 2012, on University Avenue between Lake and Race streets, just east of Carle Foundation Hospital, about 11:50 p.m.

Mr. Pauls, a University of Illinois student from Lake in the Hills, was crossing University from north to south when he was struck by Fleming.

Fleming admitted he had consumed cognac at his home in the 1500 block of Williamsburg Drive in Champaign about 10 minutes before leaving there with a friend to drop off another person in Urbana. His blood-alcohol concentration was 0.11 percent.

Mr. Pauls had also been drinking. Toxicology tests put his blood-alcohol concentration at 0.25 percent. He died about eight hours after the collision, a victim of multiple blunt force traumatic injuries.

At trial, Fleming testified that the collision was unavoidable and that he didn't feel impaired when it happened. He admitted, however, that he took off because he was scared. Urbana police found his car not far away several minutes later. He told police his windshield was damaged by a tree branch.

Kennedy said Thursday that when he watched Fleming testify, he believed that the defendant's remorse was genuine.

"After the event of striking Mr. Pauls, Mr. Fleming panicked. But he certainly did the wrong thing" by fleeing, said the judge.

"It's important for people to understand ... that you don't have to be a chronic offender to kill someone. You don't have to be severely intoxicated. His case points out that it really can happen in only one event of being under the influence and then driving. I think people here understand that. I think a lot of people in society don't," said the judge.

His courtroom was filled to capacity with about 60 people, most of them family and friends of Fleming. Mr. Pauls' parents and an uncle were also present.

Fleming's attorney, Baku Patel of Urbana, gave the judge more than a dozen letters of support for Fleming and had eight people testify for him, including Kristin Baker, the owner of the Sleep Inn, 1908 N. Lincoln Ave., U.

Baker testified that she had hired Fleming when he was 19 to work as a front desk clerk and was so impressed with him that she promoted him about a year later to assistant general manager. He was working at the hotel 40 or more hours a week and going to Parkland College at the time of his arrest.

Others testified about Fleming's industriousness, respect for authority, and stellar citizenship. His father, Albert Fleming Sr., told the judge that his wife died when the younger Fleming was 9 but that his son remained "outgoing and bubbly."

"I made sure I kept him busy. I didn't just send him (to events). I went with him," said the elder Fleming, a deacon in his church who expressed his condolences to Mr. Pauls' family.

"I ask God to keep you and hold you through this crisis. What happened here is totally an accident. What happened here is not in my son's character. On behalf of Al, I ask you for your forgiveness," the elder Fleming said.

George Pauls, Mr. Pauls' father, had submitted a three-page letter to the judge outlining his son's many achievements in athletics, academics and the workforce. Mr. Pauls was a senior majoring in electrical engineering and working on a minor in history. He had worked two summers as an intern for Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg.

"This is the single most tragic event to happen to me and my family. The four-day jury trial ... was the second most difficult time for us. It did not provide us any emotional comfort nor closure, there will never be closure. When the guilty verdicts were read, no feelings whatsoever came over us, other than the continued reminder and fact that we will never be able to speak to or enjoy the physical presence of my son," he wrote.

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dornik had sought the maximum sentence of 29 years for Fleming — 14 for the DUI and 15 for leaving the scene.

"He made terrible decision after terrible decision after terrible decision. Nobody wins. Everybody loses," she said.

But Patel said Fleming's case cried out for the minimum, noting that Fleming had no prior police contacts whatsoever and that there was nothing intentional in his actions. He said Fleming's family, religion, work ethic and education all spoke well for him.

"He will be a convicted felon the rest of his life. That is going to be a major obstacle," Patel said.

Fleming apologized to Mr. Pauls' family and his own for what he had done.

"If given a second chance, I will talk to teens about the seriousness of drinking and driving and how life is a gift, how one mistake can ruin a whole life," he said.

Under truth-in-sentencing, Fleming will have to serve at least 10 years. He was given credit for 308 days already served in the county jail.

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sweet caroline wrote on August 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm

This whole tragedy is heartbreaking.  Two families are destroyed.  Mr. Fleming sounds like a good, decent boy who made a horrible mistake.  Mr. Pauls was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  One life is lost and another life is basically over.  This was such a preventable tragedy.

aurum79 wrote on August 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm

My best friend was killed by a 20 year old drunk driver  a few years ago. My friend was parked in the emergency lane, flashers on, with a flat tire on the phone to triple A when he was hit. He had a sister, and a mother and a girlfriend, friends at church, friends at square dancing, friends in the chorus and colleagues at work.    I went to the trial.   I hugged the drunk driver's crying mother, but my sympathy for her witless drunk assassin son was very limited.    Stupidity resulting in manslaughter is indeed a crime and it should be treated as such.

Utowner wrote on August 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

This shows how broken our system is. A horrible accident where both subjects were intoxicated is not a crime worthy of 14 years. What a waste of life and money.

Beem wrote on August 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

I'm normally a conservative, throw-the-book-at-em type of person, but I agree that this sentence seems harsh. I believe five years would have been plenty. Young Mr. Fleming was barely over the legal limit and I doubt that the alcohol played much, if any, role in the accident. The young man who died was three times over the legal limit for intoxication and so most likely had impaired reaction times and wasn't as aware of his surroundings. A sad story all the way around.

Ldcr1 wrote on September 18, 2013 at 8:09 am

All these comments are ridiculous, 14 years is too long a sentence? Really? Let it be your son or daughter and then tell people that a 14 year prison term is too long. This kid will be anywhere from 31-35 when he gets out, he will still have life to live, Anthony's life is gone, taken away from him, forever. By the way people....Last time I checked, Drinking & Walking is not a crime!!! How dare this kids attorney try to make this about the the young man who's life was taken! Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, remember that! Fact is, Albert Fleming left the scene only having regard for himself KNOWING what he had just done, leaving this young man in the street. Young, scared & stupid do not condone his actions that night from beginning to end. No matter how young you are right is right and wrong is wrong, and I believe Albert Fleming was old enough to know the difference. People who drink & then get behind the wheel of a car causing a tragic event such as this should receive the maximum sentence, the victim has been handed a life sentence, meaning no life left to live & so it should be the case for the offender! Until more strict laws & life sentences are Implemented in these type of cases, it will continue on & on. Make it a " Life for a Life" sentence and lets see how many people are willing to make the choice to drink & then drive! Enough said.