Fifth DUI brings 13-year prison sentence

Fifth DUI brings 13-year prison sentence

URBANA — An Urbana man was sentenced Thursday to 13 years in prison for his fifth driving under the influence conviction.

Despite the pleas of friends who said Jackson V. "Jackie" Harris, 50, is a good and honorable man who would not be helped by incarceration, Judge Richard Klaus imposed a sentence two years shy of the maximum that Harris could have received.

"If he remains free, he is a clear and present danger to the public because he will drink and drive," Klaus said.

Harris, who listed an address in the 2100 block of East Pennsylvania Avenue, was convicted in a stipulated bench trial back in April of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, a Class 1 felony carrying a mandatory prison sentence because of the number of prior DUI convictions he had.

On Oct. 3, Urbana police were alerted to a man driving in the wrong lane and through stops signs near Florida and Cottage Grove avenues about 9:30 p.m. The officer stopped Harris, who was driving about 10 mph, near Gregory and Oregon streets. Harris was soft-spoken, mumbled and smelled strongly of alcohol. Because of his lack of balance, police did not do field sobriety tests, Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dornik said.

However, a blood test done at Carle Hospital revealed Harris' blood alcohol content was 0.30 percent — almost four times the limit under which Illinois motorists are presumed intoxicated.

Lifelong friend Michael Angel testified Thursday that Harris, an Army veteran, is the son of a man who died of alcoholism. He said his friend had struggled with drinking for many years but had made great strides and was sober for 11 years. Harris has a degree from Eastern Illinois University and was working on a master's in education from EIU.

When Harris' brother died of cancer in March 2013, he began drinking again, Angel said, adding that Harris now has to care for their mother.

Three other friends of Harris called him a likeable and compassionate man with much to offer.

Arguing for an 11-year prison sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach said Harris was not just slightly under the influence on Oct. 3.

"He was obliterated, wasted on the night of this incident," he said.

Banach noted that in three of Harris' previous sentences to probation for DUI, his probation was revoked and he was resentenced to jail or prison.

"Any of those could have served as a lesson for him to stop drinking and getting behind the wheel," Banach said.

Harris' attorney, Jim Martinkus of Champaign, said Harris is a graduate of Parkland College and Eastern Illinois University and volunteers at the Salvation Army.

"Jackie Harris is not evil. Jackie Harris is an addict. He's sick," said Martinkus.

Martinkus pointed to Harris' military service, his post-traumatic stress disorder, and the physical effects of a stroke "not as excuses but circumstances" for Klaus to consider in deciding how much prison time to give Harris. He urged Klaus to impose a sentence closer to the four-year minimum.

Harris is eligible for day-for-day good time on his sentence. He was also fined $6,000.

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