URBANA — An Urbana man who seriously injured another man and himself while driving drunk and the wrong way on an interstate has been sentenced to six months of confinement and two years of probation.
Judge Ronda Holliman on Thursday ordered Carlos Morris, 27, who listed an address in the 1300 block of East Harding Drive, to spend three months in the county jail and three months on electronic home detention.
Because of day-for-day good time, Morris will have to serve only about six weeks in jail and six weeks with an ankle bracelet at home.
He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of public service, pay fines, fees and costs of about $2,000, and get alcohol0abuse counseling.
Morris pleaded guilty in early October to driving under the influence of alcohol, a Class A misdemeanor he was charged with in September 2019, days after the Sept. 14 head-on crash on Interstate 74 that forever changed his life and that of Brandon Benton.
“I’m disappointed this happened. I wish it didn’t happen,” said Benton, 28, of Champaign. “I almost lost my life.”
Questioned by Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Reynolds, Benton told the judge he had gotten off work at Walmart in Champaign about midnight on Sept. 13, and was headed east on I-74 toward home.
“I got on the highway, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital (the next night) about 7:30 with my leg, hand and shoulder wrapped,” he said. “My foot was pretty much destroyed.”:
His car had been hit head-on near Lincoln Avenue by Morris, who was driving west in the eastbound lane, just after 1 a.m.
“As far as vehicle crashes go, it’s one of the worst I’ve seen,” said Illinois State Trooper Robert Hoecker, who said the speed limit there is 60 mph.
The judge watched video from Hoecker’s squad car of the heavily damaged sedans.
Benton, who walks with a noticeable limp, told the judge it’s unlikely his walking will ever improve.
He said he has to ice his foot daily before and after work. He has scars from surgery to his foot, hand and shoulder and metal in his fingers.
“I am scared every day to drive to work,” Benton said. “My daughter is 4. Thank God she was not with me. That day will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Morris was also seriously injured, breathing but unconscious and trapped in his car. His blood-alcohol content was 0.246, three times the limit under which an Illinois motorist is presumed intoxicated under the law.
Under questioning by his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Titus Spitsbergen, Morris said he received a brain injury that causes him to fumble over words and have memory issues; a broken vertebra; a broken nose; an injured knee; and multiple cuts and bruises to his entire body.
He’s unable to sit or stand for long periods of time because of his pain, he said.
Formerly employed in food service, Morris said the combination of his physical condition and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for him to find a job, so he mostly cares for his children while their mother works.
Morris said before the crash, he had been drinking whiskey, celebrating a friend’s birthday.
He said he no longer drinks and does not believe he has a drinking problem.
While his case was pending, he tested positive for cannabis use.
Reynolds argued for the maximum sentence of 364 days in jail.
“His decision nearly took the life of an innocent member of this community,” Reynolds argued. “The defendant himself is lucky to be alive.”
He said this was Morris’s third crash. One involved him leaving the scene. He argued that Morris had done little more than the minimum required to get help for his drinking.
Spitsbergen argued for probation, saying that Morris had been “punished by his injuries more than any jail sentence” and that locking him up would be a hardship to his children.
Morris had one prior misdemeanor conviction from four years ago.
Morris turned to Benton to apologize when it was his turn to speak.
“I can’t imagine the hardship I put on you and your family,” he said.
Holliman said if she were to give Morris the maximum 364 days, then she could not also sentence him to probation and she felt it important that Morris be monitored for a while.
“This is one of the worst DUIs that could take place,” she said, recounting Morris’ blood-alcohol content and the fact that the crash was head-on as he drove the wrong way at a fast speed.