Hours after Highland Park's mayor harshly criticized prosecutors for delays, authorities announced Wednesday that a misdemeanor DUI charge had been filed against an 18-year-old woman in the death of a 5-year-old-girl walking on a sidewalk with her family.
But questions have been raised about the handling of the investigation, with at least one Hispanic activist asking whether there was preferential treatment. The driver's parents help run an arts center in the affluent North Shore suburb; the victim's family is Hispanic.
Charged is Carly A. Rousso, 18, of the 2300 block of Woodpath Lane in Highland Park, who could face felony counts as the investigation continues, authorities said. "At this time, and until toxicology results along with other evidence is evaluated, it is a Class A misdemeanor Driving Under the Influence," Highland Park Deputy Police Chief David Schwarz said in an email.
Nearly two hours after Mayor Nancy Rotering released her statement saying that she and the City Council were “frustrated by the delayed manner in which this case is being handled,” Highland
Later Wednesday night, Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Ken LaRue said that the misdemeanor charge was filed days earlier – on Monday, the day of the crash -- and that the charge was required in order for investigators to get blood samples from Rousso. He could not explain why that charge was not made public until after the mayor's scathing statement. Schwarz and other officials in Highland Park did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.
LaRue said prosecutors are working methodically on the case. "We abide by our ethical obligation as prosecutors to make an informed decision in this case," he said.
Jaclyn, 5, was with her mother and her 4-year-old and 2-year-old brothers Monday when a Lexus coupe drove onto a sidewalk on the north side of the 700 block of Central Avenue, police said. The two boys were released Tuesday from Highland Park Hospital. The mother remains in fair condition at the hospital.
Police at the scene of the crash "made observations of the driver consistent with possible impairment," according to the statement by Knapp. Blood and urine samples were obtained from Rousso and have been sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab for analysis, according to the statement.
Rousso is the daughter of David and Gabrielle Rousso, who lead The Art Center-
According to the Illinois secretary of state’s office, Rousso has a clean driving record. Arrested for possession of marijuana in
Margaret Carrasco, a community activist involved with the north suburban Hispanic community, applauded the mayor for applying pressure in the death of the girl. "Are you devaluing the life of a Latino in Highland Park?" Carrasco asked, referring to the state's attorney's office.
Rotering singled out the office of Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller in her letter to residents, posted on the Highland Park web site at about 5 p.m Wednesday.
"The City Council, staff and I are frustrated by the delayed manner in which this case is being handled," Rotering wrote. "Releasing the driver with no restrictions was a decision of the state's attorney. This was a mistake and we are demanding an explanation."
Highland Park Deputy Police Chief George Pfutzenreuter told the Tribune on Tuesday, "You don't just throw the charges at somebody until you get all the evidence back."
Mayor Rotering said later, after the charges were announced, that she had released her letter after talking with state's attorney representatives who said toxicology results could take weeks.
"I was very frustrated with what appeared to be significantly delayed action on the part of the Lake County state's attorney." Rotering said.
"We need to see the results of the toxicology," she said. "A misdemeanor charge is not sufficient to address the death of a child."
She said the community will hold a memorial march at 6 p.m. Thursday that will begin at the Highwood train station and end at the site of the crash.
In the days since the crash, community members have raised tens of thousands of dollars to help pay the family's expenses.
Sara Gordon and Jessica Millen, co-presidents of the parent-teacher organization at Indian Trail School in Highland Park, have organized the Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento Memorial Fund. By Wednesday night it had more than $43,500, according to the fund's web site.
The donations will be deposited into an account at Highland Park Bank and Trust to help the family pay for memorial expenses and medical bills.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, social workers and other support staff were at the Indian Trail, where Jaclyn just started her first year of kindergarten, to meet with grieving children and parents.
"Our goal was to surround everyone in that school with supportive, caring people," said David Behlow, superintendent of North Shore School District 112.
The Highland Park Community Foundation, an 18-year-old organization that raises money to support victims of major catastrophes, also started its own drive that raised $6,000 for the family immediately after the fund was established Tuesday evening, said foundation founder Jack Blane.
"I've lived in Highland Park over 50 years, and I don't remember anything like this (outpouring of support) before," Blane said. "As a parent, it's the worst tragedy that can imagine."
Jeff Danna is a Tribune reporter; Ruth Fuller in a freelancer.