Plea deal for alleged drunken-driving accident in Campustown called off


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URBANA — A plea deal for a 25-year-old Champaign man who allegedly struck a pedestrian in a drunken-driving accident is off for now.

In a hearing Thursday before Judge Adam Dill, Seonghyun Lee was set to plead guilty to aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the October 2017 accident that injured 20-year-old Makena Brillhart while she was crossing Green Street between Fourth and Fifth streets with a group of friends.

Terms of the plea deal called for Lee to serve 150 days of jail time, spend 30 months on probation, pay a $2,000 fine and perform 150 hours of public-service work. But Lee's attorney, Tom Bruno of Urbana, declined to go ahead with the guilty plea after Dill questioned part of the agreement — that Lee's jail time be served at home under electronic monitoring.

While the state's attorney's office didn't object to a home-monitoring sentence, Dill continued the case to Sept. 7 to give Bruno time to prepare arguments in favor of that option versus Lee serving his time in the county jail.

Lee faces up to 12 years in prison if he's convicted. A Breathalyzer test after the accident indicated he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13. Under Illinois law, a motorist is presumed to be intoxicated at 0.08 or higher.

According to Champaign police reports, the accident happened around 2 a.m. Oct. 21. Lee, who had been westbound on Green Street, tried to avoid hitting Brillhart and her friends but failed to do so.

Bruno said he's prepared to go to trial if necessary, and more facts about the accident would emerge there.

While his client was legally intoxicated and Brillhart's injuries are deserving of sympathy, Bruno said, he still sees a legitimate dispute about whether this was a case of aggravated DUI.

"There's a contested, disputed fact about whether his intoxication was the cause of her injuries," he said.

Brillhart wept as she read a lengthy statement in the courtroom about the impact the accident has had on her, her family and her friends.

Earlier on the day of the accident, she had gone to Illinois State University with her parents and had been out that night celebrating a friend's birthday, she said.

"My life was absolutely perfect until that horrible night," she said.

Brillhart recalled details of the accident, including her parents rushing to the hospital and the injuries and scars that linger. Among her injuries were a concussion, lacerations covering her body, lingering post-traumatic-stress disorder and damage to her sense of smell, she said.

Her mother took three months off work to care for her after she got out of the hospital, Brillhart said.

"Every time my dad hears a siren, he frantically calls and asks if I'm OK," she said.

While she declared a desire to move on from the accident and an intention to take back her life, Brillhart also told Lee she thought he was getting off easy and questioned why he would have any choice in his sentence.

"What a disgusting and horrible thing you put my family through," she said.


Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).