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Tragic results of drinking practices learned in communities


Dangers of underage drinking-many times practices only start with house parties,0,1330109.story?coll=chi-pod-rail

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 drinking.

"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 testified Wednesday.

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 night."

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 Blagojevich.

"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."

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' Deerfield basement.

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 Riverwoods.

» 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 (left).
(Al Podgorski/Sun-Times)

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 Police.

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 driveway

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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