Zion man sentenced to six years for fatal DUI crash in Grayslake

Coming home from a Pat Benatar concert with her young niece last May, Malia Johnson's life was snuffed out when an admitted drunk driver with Xanax and marijuana in his system plowed head on into her car at 70 mph while passing another vehicle in a no-passing...

 Zion man sentenced to six years for fatal DUI crash in Grayslake

Coming home from a Pat Benatar concert with her young niece last May, Malia Johnson's life was snuffed out when an admitted drunk driver with Xanax and marijuana in his system plowed head on into her car at 70 mph while passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone, authorities said.

Nevertheless, her sister on Monday chose not to condemn the man who pleaded guilty to charges related to her death. Despite her family's loss — the loss of a mother, wife and "a wonderful citizen" — and the many future milestones they could have shared in with her, Cheryl Wineberg took a magnanimous approach.

"My choice is to forgive you," her sister Cheryl Wineberg told Shawn Flores at his sentencing hearing Monday.

Flores, 26, pleaded guilty in December to one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in death stemming from the May 13 crash that killed the 54-year-old Johnson, a local chiropractor from Hainesville, and injured her 14-year-old niece. Flores, who faced up to 10 years in prison as part of a plea agreement, was sentenced Monday to six years.

Shawn Flores, 26, of Zion. Lake County Sheriff's Office / Handout Shawn Flores, 26, of Zion. Shawn Flores, 26, of Zion. (Lake County Sheriff's Office / Handout)

In handing down the sentence, Lake County Circuit Judge James Booras said that Flores, who admitted to authorities that he had smoked marijuana earlier that day and had taken Xanax before drinking at a bar before the crash, "basically wanted to blow his mind." Booras said there was no reason for Flores to be using Xanax and that he believed Flores was doing so to enhance the effects of alcohol.

"I submit that he was out of his mind when he left that bar, that he was mentally unconscious," Booras said.

Defense attorney Saul Ferris had argued just the opposite, stating that Flores was "barely over the legal limit" for blood-alcohol content to drive in Illinois, and had asked the judge to sentence Flores to a probationary term including periodic imprisonment. Ferris said he believed the use of marijuana and Xanax occurred hours before the crash and were not contributing factors.

Assistant State's Attorney Ben Dillon had asked for the maximum sentence of 10 years.

Dillon said Flores' blood-alcohol level, which registered at .093, was measured about two hours after the crash, so it had time to dissipate. The legal limit in Illinois is .08.

Zion man indicted on reckless homicide charge in fatal Route 120 crash Jim Newton

A Zion man was indicted by a Lake County grand jury this week on charges of aggravated DUI and reckless homicide in connection with a May crash in Grayslake that killed a 54-year-old woman.

Shawn Flores was indicted on a charge of reckless homicide, several felony counts of aggravated DUI — including...

A Zion man was indicted by a Lake County grand jury this week on charges of aggravated DUI and reckless homicide in connection with a May crash in Grayslake that killed a 54-year-old woman.

Shawn Flores was indicted on a charge of reckless homicide, several felony counts of aggravated DUI — including...

(Jim Newton)

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped lesser charges of reckless homicide and possession of a controlled substance.

Flores had admitted to smoking marijuana at least twice earlier in the day, and to taking half of a Xanax tablet and drinking at a Grayslake bar located at routes 120 and 45 before the crash, attorneys said in court.

According to prosecutors and police reports, the crash happened just before 11 p.m. when Flores was trying to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone. Flores was headed east on Route 120 and ran head-on into Johnson's car, which was traveling west, near Batershall Road in Grayslake, authorities said. Johnson was pronounced dead at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville at 12:23 a.m. on May 14.

A 14-year-old niece of Johnson's who was in the car with her was treated for injuries after the crash.

Flores, who had been released after his mother posted bond for him, was sent back to the Lake County jail after Monday's court hearing.

Before his sentencing, Flores apologized to Johnson's friends and family members.

Felony DUI charges filed in fatal Grayslake crash Jim Newton

Bail was set at $300,000 Wednesday for a Zion man charged with multiple felonies, including aggravated DUI, related to the death of a woman in a May 13 crash in Grayslake.

Shawn Flores was arrested Tuesday following an investigation into the crash by the Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team,...

Bail was set at $300,000 Wednesday for a Zion man charged with multiple felonies, including aggravated DUI, related to the death of a woman in a May 13 crash in Grayslake.

Shawn Flores was arrested Tuesday following an investigation into the crash by the Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team,...

(Jim Newton)

"I know that Malia Johnson will be missed by so many people," he said. "Your whole family has been in my thoughts and prayers constantly. May the rest of your days be filled with love and happiness and healing."

Flores' mother, father and pastor all spoke at the hearing, saying that he was a gentle person who filmed services at his church and sang in the choir.

His mother, Denise Flores, said her son "would do anything to take it back. My son is truly remorseful"

jrnewton@tribpub.com

Twitter @jimnewton5

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