Prison for Fairmount man convicted of aggravated DUI

 

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PARIS — A Fairmount man whose drunken driving caused the death of a young Champaign woman more than a year ago has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Cameron Shull, 28, will have to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed Friday by Edgar County Judge Steve Garst, who heard evidence and arguments for more than two hours Thursday.

Shull was given credit for 69 days already served in jail.

Shull pleaded guilty in June to aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, admitting that his erratic driving on an Edgar County road on June 18, 2016, caused the death of Bethany Baker, 21, a one-time Champaign County fair queen contestant.

It was his second DUI conviction although he successfully completed court supervision for the first in 2011.

Miss Baker, an acquaintance of Shull, was a passenger in a Ford pickup truck that Shull was driving south on Edgar County 1275 E, just south of the Vermilion-Edgar County line and northwest of Chrisman, about 5:50 a.m. that Saturday.

He told an Edgar County sheriff's deputy that he swerved to miss an animal and that the truck slid in gravel, causing him to overcorrect and leave the road. The truck went airborne and rolled over before hitting a utility pole and coming to rest on its roof.

Miss Baker was in between Shull and another passenger, wearing only a lap belt. She was thrown from the truck.

Shull and the other passenger, Jason Alcorn, 43, also of Fairmount, remained in the truck and received minor injuries.

Shull's blood-alcohol content — measured several hours after the crash — was 0.12 percent, more than the minimum 0.08 percent under which Illinois motorists are presumed intoxicated.

Edgar County Sheriff's Deputy Clayton Johnson testified Thursday that he found beer cans around Shull's truck. Johnson said he asked Shull, as he was being loaded into an ambulance, if he had anything to drink.

Shull's response, Johnson said, was "Enough to be in trouble."

Shull admitted in his testimony Thursday that he had not taken seriously the treatment and counseling he received after his first DUI. But he said he has done so in the year since the fatal crash.

Edgar County State's Attorney Mark Isaf asked for a 10-year prison sentence, telling the judge he had no reason to believe Shull was more committed to treatment now.

Edgar County Public Defender Bill McGrath argued that Shull's commitment to sobriety warranted the judge finding that "extraordinary" circumstances exist for his client to get probation.

McGrath said Shull completed two residential and outpatient treatment programs for substance abuse in Springfield and Champaign that started about a month after the fatal crash. He continues in a self-help group.

McGrath told the judge if he didn't agree that extraordinary circumstances existed to preclude a prison term, that he set the sentence close to the three-year minimum. Shull could have received 14 years.

Miss Baker's mother, Cheri Baker, and one of her sisters, Heather Baker, read aloud for the judge what they have been through since Bethany's death.

"The defendant has taken my child. He has disrupted my mind. He has extinguished my joy of living and he has crushed my soul. He has forever altered my life and ... the lives of my other children, Tyler, Heather and Lexi," Cheri Baker read.

"The defendant has given me pain and sorrow as my constant companion. He has shattered my dreams. He has poisoned my future. And for what? For absolutely nothing. What the defendant did was reckless, cowardly, self-serving, unconscionable and unlawful. The defendant owes unrelenting retribution and he deserves punishment ... to the full extent of the law."

Heather Baker described the pain of learning of her younger sister's death through social media and having to relay the unspeakable news to her parents.

She spoke of the helplessness she feels watching her mother, brother and sister grieve. She also said she watched her father drink too much in the wake of Bethany's death.

"And then, this past July, the struggle and hurt from losing Bethany finally took its toll and cost my father the ultimate price — his life," she said.

Heather Baker said her 57-year-old father's death certificate stated he died of heart disease but "my family and everyone who know Mike Baker recognize that he truly died from a broken heart.""Please do not give the defendant another opportunity to end or harm the life of someone else. I would implore the court to hold the defendant accountable this time for not only carelessly endangering the life of another and his own, but most importantly for killing my little sister, Bethany," she said.

Miss Baker was a native of Fairmount who graduated from Jamaica High School.

In 2012, she competed in the Champaign County Fair queen pageant.

After the sentence, Cheri Baker said no amount of years in prison for Shull would make her feel any differently.

"I'm happy that at least he is paying for his crime. That's what justice is supposed to do. Sure, everybody wishes it was longer. I'm okay with it. It wouldn't matter if he was sentenced to 10 years, 14 years, five years.

"My daughter is still not going to come back home, not going to walk through the door with that smiling face. I miss her every day," she said.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).