URBANA — A Rantoul man has been sentenced to prison for his role in a crash that seriously injured an off-duty Champaign firefighter.
On Monday Judge Richard Klaus sentenced Garrett W. Paquin, 33, who listed an address in the 1500 block of Banyan Drive, to six years in prison, with credit for five days served.
Paquin pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated driving under the influence, Class 4 felony.
Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dornik said that Paquin’s drinking on Sept. 25, 2013, led to a collision that caused great bodily harm to firefighter Jeffrey Ballew.
A test of blood drawn from Paquin’s body indicated that he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.092 percent at the time of the crash, Dornik said. A motorist in Illinois is presumed intoxicated at 0.08 percent.
Dornik said Paquin was driving his pickup truck south on County Road 800 E when he stopped at County Road 1000 N, also referred to as the Monticello Road, and saw a westbound motorcyclist, later identified as Ballew. Dornik said Paquin thought Ballew was signaling a right turn and continued south through the intersection.
Ballew’s motorcycle crashed into front fender of Paquin’s pickup truck.
Dornik said Paquin had red eyes and admitted to Champaign County sheriff’s deputies that he had been drinking beer that night. He had “indicators of impairment” on field sobriety tests, she said, and made several comments about not seeing the victim.
Dornik said Ballew sustained a shattered lower leg, punctured right lung and broken ribs. He also suffered mini-strokes as a result of a blood clot and had to be on a ventilator for about two weeks.
Ballew said the crash changed his life forever.
“Now, I know firsthand how your life can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds,” he said Monday.
Ballew said he had been a Champaign firefighter for the last 13 years and fulfilled one of his goals of becoming an engineer for the department.
“I have loved serving my community, being a career firefighter, helping others during emergency situations in their lives,” he said.
Now, he said, he is uncertain about his future for his job, family and physical abilities as a result of Paquin’s decision to drink and drive that day.
The night of the crash, Ballew said he was returning home after admitting his mother to Carle Foundation Hospital for treatment for a broken leg.
Hours later, he was rushed to the same Urbana hospital.
“In the emergency room, it was determined that my right leg had collapsed,” Ballew said Monday. “I had five rib fractures, six vertebrae fractures, a fractured femur of the upper right leg and multiple fractures of the tibia and fibula of the lower right leg, including an open fracture to the lower right leg.”
He said the accident also caused a right carotid artery injury, resulting in several blood clots flowing to his brain.
“That, in turn, caused me to experience a series of strokes, which left partial paralysis in my left arm and hand,” he said. “The strokes also caused vision issues that may or may not be resolved with further surgeries or time. I have been told by doctors that the vision issues may not ever be cured, leaving me eyesight problems the rest of my life.”
Ballew underwent an eight-hour surgery and remained in the hospital for six weeks.
It all could have been avoided, Ballew pointed out Monday in court, if Paquin had just let someone else drive his vehicle.
“Most of all,” he said, “I hope that Garrett may one day realize how very close he came to taking someone else’s life.”`
Klaus ordered that Paquin pay more than $47,000 in restitution to Ballew.