PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — A woman was sentenced to 14 years in prison in connection with a drunk driving crash that killed two people last year.
Tazewell County Judge Tim Cusack said he didn’t believe his sentence for Stephanie Melgoza would make anyone happy but he did say it believed it was the most just. He also implored the packed second-floor courtroom to remember the names of the victims.
“What does my sentence to prison do if no one remembers their names? We need to get the word out,” the judge said.
Melgoza tearfully turned to the families of Andrea Rosewicz, 43, of Avon, Ohio, and Paul Prowant, 55, of Seattle and repeatedly said she was sorry. She vowed to live with the deaths for the rest of her life and said she hoped to turn something positive out of the tragedy.
“I never meant to hurt anybody. I’m so sorry for the pain that I have caused. I will not forget them and I will live with this everyday,” she said during a final statement before her sentence was imposed.
Melgoza, 24, entered a “blind” plea, or one without any agreement, to two counts of aggravated DUI and two counts of aggravated reckless driving.
On April 10, 2022, Melgoza’s car struck Rosewicz and Prowant. Both were pronounced dead at the scene after being struck in the 3300 block of North Main Street around 10:15 p.m. that night.
Family members of Rosewicz and Prowant chastised Melgoza, saying it was her decision and hers alone to drink and drive that night. They wanted the maximum sentence of 28 years behind bars for her, saying it was necessary to protect the public.
They held up pictures for Melgoza and Cusack to see, and reminded everyone of the human cost of the accident. Lives were forever changed, they said. Smiles were gone. Celebrations were different and Melgoza, they said, was to blame.
For his part, defense attorney Kevin Sullivan noted his client was remorseful and thought about the crash and the victims daily. He said it was her to called 911 and that she has been cooperative ever since. Melgoza, he said, wanted to “pay it forward” by trying to use her story to prevent others from making the same mistake.
“She could really become a poster child or a poster person for what not to do and who better to have that come from than her, than she, who’s experienced just this,” he said.
Court records indicate an East Peoria Police officer noticed Melgoza’s Dodge Dart with heavy front-end damage. Melgoza reportedly had slurred speech and red, watery eyes. There was a strong odor of alcohol as well, according to the officer’s report from that night.
A probable cause statement filed in court when she was charged indicated Melgoza admitted to police she was driving about 40 mph in a 30-mph zone and struck a person.
When they looked through the Dart, officers found a small bag of marijuana, a hitter pipe and an open bottle of Tito’s vodka. Melgoza failed a field sobriety test and was arrested at the scene, according to court records.
Aggravated DUI carries a mandatory prison of three to 14 years in prison. Given that two people were killed, Melgoza faced up to 28 years behind bars. She must serve at least 85% of any sentence imposed.
Cusack could have imposed a term of probation but Melgoza, a 2022 Bradley University graduate, had to have shown “extraordinary circumstances” why she should not go to prison. That’s different from most crimes, as the burden is on Melgoza to show why she should get probation.
Melgoza was given credit for about four months she spent in home confinement as well as two days already spent in custody. With that and the requirement that she must serve at least 85% of her sentence, she could get out of prison in about 11 1/2 years.