Parents guilty of permitting underage drinking
By Courtney Flynn and Andrew Wang
Tribune staff reporters
7:06 AM CDT, July 22, 2007
As the debate continues in courtrooms, at high schools and around kitchen
tables across the country on who ultimately bears responsibility for underage
drinking, a jury in Lake County weighed in with its own opinion Saturday,
finding a Deerfield couple guilty of allowing their son's friends to drink in
their basement one night last October.
Two teenage guests were killed in a car crash shortly after leaving the
Deerfield home of Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated seven hours before reaching
its decision at about 7:40 p.m. They also convicted the Hutsells of one
count of endangerment of a child and one count of obstruction of justice for
lying to police officers on the night of the accident. The jury acquitted
the couple of another obstruction charge for destroying evidence. The
Hutsells showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.
"Parents need to be responsible and you cannot host underage drinking
parties in your home," said Lake County State's Atty. Michael Waller
following the verdict. "The consequences, as we unfortunately learned in
this case, can be deadly."
With the convictions, each Hutsell could face penalties from probation to a
year in jail. The Hutsells' attorneys declined to comment as they left court.
The Hutsells also declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Deerfield police reported Saturday night that three teens—one who
testified at the trial and two others who were on the witness list—were
arrested at a party Friday night for alleged alcohol-related offenses.
The Hutsells' case might have garnered only minimal attention if the Oct. 13
evening of Deerfield High School's homecoming football game had gone without
incident. But the revelry of that night was shattered when a car, full of
teens who had just been at the party, slammed into a tree nearby.
Killed were Daniel Bell of Bannockburn, and a passenger, Ross Trace of
Riverwoods, both 18.
Toxicological tests showed that Bell, the driver, had a blood-alcohol level
of 0.132, above the 0.08 driving limit for adults, while Trace had smoked
marijuana before he died.
Over the course of the trial before Judge Christopher Stride, more than a
dozen teens who attended the party at the house in the 700 block of Summit
Drive testified, including the couple's son, Jonathan Tyler Hutsell, who
testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity.
In their questioning and final arguments, prosecutors tried to paint a
portrait of a house where teens came and went as they pleased, alcohol was
being consumed openly and Jeffrey Hutsell was in a position to see teens
"There were 29 kids down there with beer and rum. There was beer pong, a
drinking game, going on," Assistant State's Atty. Ari Fisz said in his
closing argument. "It was blatantly obvious [the Hutsells] knew there was
drinking in their home."
Defense attorneys conceded that Jeffrey Hutsell had been in the basement at
least three times, but said their clients saw no drinking.
"Did they provide alcohol? No.," Elliot Pinsel, Sara Hutsell's lawyer, said
to the jury. "Did they come down and drink with them? No. Did they bring
them chips and salsa? No."
Christine Donley, 17, entered the party through an open garage door, she
In the basement, she saw beer cans on a bar counter, she told jurors. When
she was leaving the house, she testified, Jeffrey Hutsell spoke with her in
the driveway and asked if she was "OK to drive." Donley told him she was
fine and went home.
Another prosecution witness who testified in exchange for immunity, Ryan
Pedersen, 19, said he saw 20 to 25 people in the basement, plus a case of
beer and a gallon bottle of rum. Matt Manacek testified he played beer pong
and drank "between 5 and 10 [shots of rum] in a period of about 30 minutes."
Manacek, Jonathan Tyler Hutsell and Peter McGee, another prosecution
witness, all testified Jeffrey Hutsell came down to the basement shortly
before Manny Abreu, a passenger in Bell's car, ran in screaming he had just
been in a car accident.
In a brief conversation before Abreu's arrival, Jeffrey Hutsell told McGee,
"Don't let anyone drink and drive," McGee said. Manacek testified that while
he and Jeffrey Hutsell talked, the basement had a odor of beer.
Testifying in his own defense Friday, Jeffrey Hutsell said he never would
have condoned underage drinking in his house had he known about it. It
wasn't until a police detective after the crash suggested his basement
smelled like "stale beer" that he noticed the odor. Sara Hutsell testified
she didn't know of any drinking in the house until after the crash.
"Christine Donley, Manny Abreu and Matt Manacek. . .what do they have in
common?" Robert Gevirtz, Jeffrey Hutsell's attorney, asked during closing
arguments. "They all had immunity and they all had been drinking that
Partially in response to the Hutsell case, Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake
Forest) in January introduced legislation that could make it a felony for
adults to allow minors to drink in their home if someone is injured as a
result. The bill has passed the Senate and the House and is before Gov. Rod
"This verdict is a defining moment in and that most likely parents will
think twice before allowing underage teens to drink in their own home,"
Garrett said Saturday night. "The scrutiny that resulted in this case. . .is
actually good, because we've learned as parents the detrimental effects that
occur when teenagers drink."
Copyright © 2007,
Son testifies against parents
FATAL DUI CRASH | Deerfield boy saw dad in basement
July 19, 2007
BY LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporter
The lanky young man with a mop of dark,
curly hair took the stand as a pivotal witness Wednesday, staring straight ahead
and barely glancing at the two people on trial: his parents.
"I don't remember. . . . I don't recall," Jonathan Tyler Hutsell, 18,
repeatedly said when grilled about the night of Oct. 13, when the then
University of Kansas freshman allegedly hosted a boozy gathering in his parents'
But Hutsell did testify to seeing his father in the basement when a
blood-soaked Manuel Abreu ran down following a crash that claimed the lives of
their two 18-year-old friends, Daniel Bell, of Bannockburn and Ross Trace of
Click to enlarge image
Christine M. Donley (right) leaves the Waukegan courthouse
with her father after testifying in the case against Sara and Jeffrey Hutsell
Bell, Trace, Abreu and two others in the car had left the party shortly before
the drunken-driving accident.
Hutsell's descriptions of his father's whereabouts raise a question about
Sara and Jeffrey Hutsell's claim they did not know of alcohol in the basement or
that teen drinking had occurred.
The couple, both 53, are accused of allowing their son and his young friends
to drink alcohol in their basement. Charged with misdemeanors, they could face
up to a year in jail.
Sara Hutsell dabbed her nose and cheeks with a tissue as her son delivered
monotone, one-word answers in the tense verbal tennis match between him and
prosecutors Wednesday. He was testifying for the prosecution, but under a grant
of immunity from prosecution for underage drinking
"I was more devastated than I've ever been in my entire life," the younger
Hutsell said of losing his friends. He also blamed his grief for the reason his
statements in court were inconsistent with what he initially told Deerfield
Hutsell, dressed in a tie and gray shirt, said he had four beers in the hours
leading up to a homecoming game at his Deerfield alma mater but said he did not
drink at the evening gathering at his parents' home. Rum and beer at the
gathering came from his friends, he said Wednesday.
Hutsell told lawyers he rejoined his friends after taking Benadryl for a
sinus infection around 10:30 p.m. He originally told authorities he took the
medication and then went to sleep, leaving his friends unattended in his
family's home, according to Deerfield Police reports.
Christine M. Donley, 17, who was at the Oct. 13 gathering, also testified she
saw Jeffrey Hutsell, once on the stairs to the basement and later in the
Donley said she drank roughly five shots of hard liquor that afternoon at a
friend's house after classes were out and before the homecoming game. Donley
said she did not drink at the Hutsells.
As she was leaving, she spotted Jeffrey Hutsell in the driveway. "Mr. Hutsell
asked me if I had been drinking and if I was OK to drive home," Donley
testified. She told him she had not been drinking and that she was "fine."
Contributing: Rummana Hussain
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