SYCAMORE – Tonda Ranken wants to get through her first Christmas without her 11-year-old son before she thinks too much about going to court again.
On Thursday, Ranken, her sister-in-law, her niece and her niece's friend watched Benjamin Black, 29, admit to having heroin in his system during the Feb. 27 crash that killed Matthew Ranken. Her oldest son, Nicholas Weber, was driving, and Weber's girlfriend, Teale Noble, now 19, was severely injured as the front-seat passenger.
"I'm relieved that he is taking responsibility," Tonda Ranken said Thursday. "... I'm still numb."
Black, of the 1500 block of Sparkhayes Drive in Sycamore, was driving a Ford Expedition on Route 64 in Kane County about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 when he smashed into the back of a Chevrolet Cavalier carrying Matthew, Weber and Noble. The Cavalier had been stopped for traffic backed up on Route 64 in western Kane County because of another crash more than a mile away.
Noble suffered a cracked skull, but during medical treatment, learned she was about two weeks pregnant. She and Weber are expecting their son to be born soon, and plan to name him Jett Matthew, partially in honor of the uncle he never will meet, Tonda Ranken said.
"Nicholas at the beginning couldn't understand why he lived and Matthew had to die," Tonda Ranken said. "He thought it should have been him. Of course, I thought it should have been nobody."
But, after he learned of the pregnancy, he reasoned Matthew, the backseat passenger, had been protecting the baby, Tonda Ranken said.
"I think just that gave him some hope," she said. "We all grieve so differently."
The Rankens plan to pick out a memorial bench Saturday that will be installed at Sycamore Lake Rotary Park. Matthew was a fifth-grader at North Elementary School in Sycamore who played football in the Sycamore Youth Football League and enjoyed fishing.
Tonda Ranken also is considering asking family members to buy Christmas ornaments that remind them of Matthew so they can decorate a small Christmas tree this holiday season in his honor.
"I just want to get through the holidays, and then we're going to work on our victim impact statements," Tonda Ranken said.
Family members will be able to read their victim impact statements during Black's sentencing hearing March 20. Kane County Circuit Judge James Hallock could sentence Black to between three and 14 years in prison for aggravated driving under the influence. Probation would be an option only if Hallock found extraordinary circumstances existed.
Hallock will consider Black's criminal history and his general background, and Black could make a statement on his own behalf. Hallock also could hear how the Ranken and Noble families have been affected by Black's actions that night.
"How do you express?" Tonda Ranken said. "There's no words to express how much we miss [Matthew]."