URBANA — A Champaign attorney argued vehemently up to the moment his client was sentenced to prison that having a by-product of cocaine in his system was not the same thing as being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Judge John Kennedy rejected the arguments that Jim Martinkus has made for the last two years before and during Dana Hasselbring's jury trial, and sentenced him to 11 years in prison for aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the death of his friend, Eddie Piat.
Hasselbring, 30, whose last known address was in the 900 block of Willis Avenue, will have to serve at least 85 percent of that sentence, or just over nine years. Martinkus said he will appeal the conviction and sentence.
Mr. Piat, 26, of Champaign, died on Nov. 1, 2010, from head injuries he received on Sept. 18, 2010, when Hasselbring's motorcycle hit his friend's motorcycle on Kirby Avenue near Lincoln Road in Champaign. The two men were the lead motorcyclists in a group of cyclists heading east.
It was not until June 2011 that Hasselbring was charged with felony aggravated DUI, alleging that he was driving at a time when he had cocaine metabolites in his system, which are produced as cocaine breaks down.
Testimony at Hasselbring's September jury trial from a Champaign police accident reconstructionist was that both men were driving well in excess of the 35 mph limit when the cycles collided. Mr. Piat was not wearing a helmet.
On Martinkus' advice, Hasselbring declined to say anything after the lawyers had made their recommendations on what sentence he should receive.
Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dornik, the last of several prosecutors who have had the case, argued that a sentence to prison was necessary to deter others and not to deprecate the seriousness of the crime.
She reminded Kennedy that Hasselbring had a prior conviction for DUI and two misdemeanor offenses for which he received probation but had trouble following the rules of probation.
"Nobody intends for this sort of thing to happen. It can happen between friends. It can happen between relatives. It can happen between strangers. This is what happens after people decide to drive after using illegal substances like cocaine or legal substances like alcohol," she said, calling Mr. Piat's death "tragic and senseless."
Martinkus agreed with the tragic part but called Mr. Piat's death the result of a "terrifically bad decision by many individuals who decided to drive at a reckless speed."
Reminding Kennedy that the police who dealt with Hasselbring said he showed no signs of impairment, Martinkus then brought up the recent death of a Pontiac police officer and his canine partner killed by an alleged drunk driver who had been at a bar drinking for several hours before crashing into the police officer as he was parked in a median.
It's that kind of DUI that deserves a lengthy prison term, Martinkus said.
He asked Kennedy to sentence Hasselbring to probation or, in the alternative, a prison sentence of eight years or fewer, which would have made Hasselbring eligible for boot camp.
Mr. Piat's widow and several members of her and her late husband's families were in court, as were many of Hasselbring's family and friends.
In her written statement to the judge, Jesse Piat of Tuscola spoke of the pain of being widowed just five months after marrying Mr. Piat and being left to raise their only daughter, now 7, on her own.
Her child takes medication to help her sleep and receives counseling, Jesse Piat said. She also talked of the difficulty of living with half as much income, saying her husband had no life insurance and that she is unable to receive federal aid because they weren't married long enough.
Kennedy also had 15 letters of support for Hasselbring, which he took several minutes to read before imposing sentence.
"It is absolutely correct this is a tragic accident," said Kennedy. "It is also a very serious crime."
The judge said he was mindful of the hardship to Hasselbring's family, especially his young son, brought on by imprisonment. He also said it was mitigating that Hasselbring had steady income.
But he noted that in at least three prior criminal cases, Hasselbring was unsuccessfully discharged from probation.
Kennedy also ordered Hasselbring to pay Mrs. Piat $4,424 to cover the cost of her husband's funeral. He also fined Hasselbring $1,000.