ST. CHARLES – Benjamin Black told the family of 11-year-old Matthew Ranken that he didn’t expect their forgiveness, but asked that they accept his apology for causing the crash that killed their son.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Matthew,” Black said at a sentencing hearing Thursday in Kane County Court. “I accept the consequences, because I owe it to Matthew.”
Black, of Sycamore, pleaded guilty in November to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence. He read his statement just before closing arguments in the hearing, which was continued until Wednesday. He could face a sentence of three to 14 years in prison.
Prosecutors say Black was driving a 1999 Ford Expedition about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, 2013, near the intersection of Route 64 and Peplow Road in Kane County when he crashed into the back of a Chevrolet Cavalier. The crash killed Matthew and severely injured 19-year-old Teale Noble, both of Sycamore, who were passengers in the Cavalier.
Samples of Black’s blood and urine taken after the crash tested positive for heroin metabolites and Alprazolam, a generic name for Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety disorders, police said. Black has admitted he is a heroin addict, said D.J. Tegeler, his attorney.
Four experts testified for the prosecution, and the defense called one witness, a Kane County Sheriff’s deputy. Tonda Ranken, Matthew’s mother, was the only member of the family who read a victim impact statement to the court.
Kane County Circuit Judge James Hallock postponed sentencing until 11:15 a.m. Wednesday because he needed more time to review the evidence, including victim impact statements from other Ranken family members.
Although probation for Black would be possible if Hallock found extreme circumstances existed, he is not asking for probation. Black said the time he spends in prison will give the Ranken family closure and will give him time to take responsibility for his actions, Tegeler said.
While reading her statement, Tonda Ranken recalled the time she spent with the youngest of her four children, how she used to serve him macaroni for lunch and solved jigsaw puzzles with him on the floor. Ranken also detailed Matthew’s relationship with his brothers, Nick and Chris Weber, and Aaron Ranken. Nick, the oldest, would take Matthew everywhere he went. Chris, the second oldest, played sports with Matthew.
“I remember the doctor saying he died instantly, but I didn’t believe him,” Tonda Ranken told the court. “All I wanted was for him to open his eyes. That didn’t happen.”
Kane County Sheriff’s deputy Trevor Hoyt testified that Black was traveling about 55 mph, the legal limit, when the crash occurred. Black tried to help Matthew but could not, Hoyt said.
Black said he hit a patch of ice and was unable to slow down to avoid the traffic backup, which was caused by another accident down the road. Hoyt said he did not see any ice or skid marks near the crash scene.
Jennifer Bash, forensic scientist with Illinois State Police, testified that the drugs in Black’s system had been consumed within 24 hours of the crash.
Police officers called by the prosecution testified that Black’s heroin use continued after the crash.
Villa Park police officer David Subject testified he was called to a Walgreens about 5 p.m. April 2, more than a month after the crash, and found Black slipping in and out of consciousness because of heroin use.
DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy Brad Sorenson said Black tested positive for opiates that day, when he was on electronic home monitoring in DeKalb County in connection with a pending theft case. He is accused of stealing about $4,000 worth of brass and copper from a Cortland manufacturing business.
During his closing argument, Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Cullen asked the judge to sentence Black to the upper end of the three to 14 year sentencing range, saying Black was guilty simply for choosing to drive when he had opiates in his system.
“There are victims,” Cullen said. “Those people have the right not to be victimized by his drug addictions and his behavior.”
Tegeler asked the judge to sentence Black to no more than eight years in prison, adding the court should help rehabilitate Black rather than simply punish him. Black himself admitted in a court report that he made a stupid decision when he decided to drive, Tegeler said.
“It’s a momentous decision that has changed countless people’s lives,” Tegeler said. “He knows he’ll live with this for the rest of his life.”