URBANA — A Champaign man who crashed while driving under the influence two years ago, leaving his fiancée paralyzed, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.
Lamonte Dale, 46, pleaded guilty in March to aggravated driving under the influence, admitting that his use of cocaine and cannabis some time prior to a May 4, 2019, crash on Interstate 57 near Savoy led to the injuries to his fiancée, Stephanie R. Smith-Franklin, 38, of Champaign.
Evidence was that there were traces of metabolites of those drugs in his system, indicating they had been broken down.
Smith-Franklin was ejected from the vehicle that was headed north on I-57. Dale sustained broken ribs. Three of his children in the vehicle, ages 5, 3 and 2, were not hurt.
In a sentencing hearing that began April 30 and was continued to Thursday, Smith-Franklin said her neck was broken and her spinal cord injured, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down.
Confined to a wheelchair, she told Judge Ronda Holliman that she is unable to care for herself and that Dale had been her caretaker from the time she was released from the hospital in late July 2019 until his arrest in November 2020.
But she revealed that he allegedly hit her and neglected her — sometimes for days at a time — while being paid by the state to act as her caretaker.
Dale was charged with aggravated battery and neglect by a caregiver in November 2020, some 16 months after the fateful crash, but those charges were dismissed when he agreed to plead guilty to the aggravated DUI.
Over the objection of Dale’s court-appointed attorney, Ed Piraino of Champaign, Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Reynolds used the abuse and neglect allegations to get Dale a stiffer sentence for the DUI, which is allowed at sentencing hearings.
Smith-Franklin, who formerly worked as a registered nurse, told the judge that Dale once took a case of beer, shook the cans and opened them one at a time, spraying her with beer while asking her what she was going to do about it.
She described a May 2020 incident where he “smacked me in the face with a pillow” and hit her glasses, cutting her face, which she documented with a photo.
On Sept. 10, she said, he left the house when she had a bathroom accident and told her she would have to sit in it.
“I was alone at least two days,” she said, adding she was new to the Champaign area and knew no adults locally who could help her. She said her three children, ages 15, 14 and 11, live with her but are not trained to care for her.
Smith-Franklin testified that Dale used crack cocaine and took her prescription pain medication and sold it or exchanged it for other drugs and that he used urine from her catheter to pass his drug tests while on probation.
Speaking in his own defense Thursday, Dale said he wasn’t under the influence at the time of the crash but rather was tired from having worked all day. He said he and Smith-Franklin had traveled to East St. Louis to pick up his children and were on their way back when she asked him to drive for the last 30 miles, despite the fact that he does not have a valid license.
Dale said it was “pouring rain” and “all I remember is her hitting my shoulder and I was in the ditch,” he said of his attempt to regain control of the vehicle before it crashed. “I dozed off, fell asleep.”
Reynolds argued for the maximum 12-year sentence, citing Dale’s lengthy criminal record dating to the early 1990s and the abuse he inflicted on Smith-Franklin after causing the injuries that “robbed her of her ability to walk, run, control her hands and feet. She will never be able to do the things we take for granted.”
Referring to Dale’s admitted blackouts after excessive drinking, the prosecutor called him the “quintessential dangerous alcoholic.”
Reynolds said Smith-Franklin’s testimony about Dale’s abuse and neglect when she depended on him for basic care “shocks the conscience.”
“Her testimony brought us face to face with the depravity that humans are capable of,” Reynolds argued.
Piraino countered that what happened was “a horrible accident, and he should not have been behind the wheel.”
But the defense attorney argued that Dale did not have a high blood-alcohol level or a lot of cocaine in his system. He said he had metabolites, which indicated use much earlier, and simply fell asleep.
Piraino said Dale’s seven children, now ranging in age from 4 to 20, would suffer if he went to prison. He argued that Dale needed drug treatment in a community- based setting, and if he failed, prison would still be an option.
Dale urged the judge to consider that option, saying at his age, he no longer wants to be separated from his children.
“I know my acts cannot go unpunished,” he said. “This will be the last time Lamonte Dale steps foot in a courtroom.”
Holliman said it was telling that Dale abused Smith-Franklin and continued to use drugs even after causing her life- changing grave injuries.
“You don’t need training to be a caring person,” she said. “You don’t need training to not take advantage of a disabled person who relies on you.”
The judge said Dale had been given “numerous opportunities” dating to 2002 at probation, many of which he ignored or violated.
Under truth-in-sentencing laws, Dale will have to serve about six years and nine months, but he was given credit for just over seven months already served.