Mahomet man sentenced over May hit-and-run
MONTICELLO — Paul Reynolds may never be whole again, either financially or physically, after being critically injured in May by a hit-and-run driver.
But a Piatt County judge took the first step in trying to bring justice to the 46-year-old Mansfield man by sentencing the teen who hit him to four years of probation and ordering him to make $40,500 in restitution.
Judge Rick Broch said he wanted Wesley Luster, 19, of Mahomet to work to repay Reynolds but also sentenced him to 180 days in the county jail for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. He ordered Luster to serve 80 days immediately and said he would decide if he should serve the rest at a review hearing in December 2016.
"The fact that you left when an individual was for sure injured, and for all you knew, dead, that's hard to get your arms around. There is a moral issue to be addressed: helping out an individual," Broch said.
Luster pleaded guilty in December to the Class 2 felony, admitting that on May 8 he fled after running over Reynolds on Piatt County Road 1500 E, just south of Mahomet. He was found seven hours later at his Champaign home by Piatt County Chief Deputy Mark Huckstep, who arrested him, in part because Reynolds had been able to accurately describe Luster's pickup truck and trailer with lawn equipment.
Reynolds testified Thursday that he was riding a motorcycle south when the northbound Luster veered into his lane and was coming right at him. Reynolds put the cycle in a skid to avoid being thrown from the cycle.
Luster then ran over him, dragging Reynolds under the trailer for several yards before his body dislodged on a bumpy drive that Luster had turned into. Reynolds said Luster then circled around the property and ran over him a second time with the trailer.
Among his injuries were a crushed pelvis, broken hips, broken vertebrae, broken ribs, a collapsed lung and dislocated shoulders that left him hospitalized and in rehabilitation for about a month. A passer-by found him about 15 to 20 minutes later.
The self-employed helicopter pilot and owner of an aerial applicator business has been unable to fly since and estimated the loss to his business at $530,000.
Still, in a story published in Sunday's News-Gazette about his ordeal, Reynolds continually expressed gratitude for all that has happened to him in the aftermath of the crash.
He continued in that vein at the more than two-hour sentencing hearing Thursday.
While Reynolds had asked the judge to sentence Luster to the maximum prison term of seven years, he was stoic about the sentence of probation.
"I feel sorry for him," he said after the hearing.
Luster had cried off and on and, when it was his time to speak, candidly told the judge he didn't want to go to prison and would do "community service forever."
"Mr. Reynolds, I'm so sorry. I know you probably hate me. I didn't mean to hurt anybody at all," Luster said.
Special prosecutor Chuck Zalar of the state appellate prosecutor's office had recommended five to six years in prison and restitution of $140,500 while defense attorney Todd Reardon of Charleston asked for probation, community service and $15,500 in restitution.
"But for the victim being lucky enough — I hate to call him lucky — to identify the trailer, the defendant would be scot-free," Zalar said. "(Luster) didn't have insurance. He didn't want to get caught."
Zalar said Luster was also unwilling to fully accept what he had done, telling a probation officer that he hit Reynolds' motorcycle but didn't run over him.
A prison sentence was needed, he said, "to show people you have to fulfill your responsibility both under the law and morally" by stopping to render aid.
Reardon noted his client's young age, lack of a criminal record of any kind and his "boneheaded decision" in urging the judge to spare him from prison.
"Had he just parked his vehicle that day, he'd be facing two traffic tickets. He realizes that. The mistake he made makes him a Class 2 felon," said Reardon.
Reardon had an aunt, uncle and Luster's mother testify about how out of character Luster's behavior was in leaving the scene.
Donna Howell of Mahomet said her son cared for his dying father daily for a year at the age of 17.
Under cross-examination by Zalar, Howell conceded that during that same time her son was expelled from high school for having cannabis on school grounds.
The restitution ordered by Broch covered only Reynolds' motorcycle and the clothing he wore that day as well as his out-of-pocket medical expenses to date. The judge declined to impose restitution related to Reynolds' lost income or out-of-pocket medical expenses he expects for surgeries this year and next to repair his shoulders.