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12-year sentence for DUI that killed Sycamore boy

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 7:35 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:13 a.m. CDT
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Tonda Ranken (right) and sister-in-law Donna Ranken talk about the 12-year prison sentence for Benjamin Black on Wednesday outside of the Kane County Courthouse. Black was sentenced after admitting he had heroin in his system at the time of a crash that killed 11-year-old Sycamore boy Matthew Ranken.

ST. CHARLES – Kane County Judge James Hallock wanted to send a message Wednesday that society will not tolerate those who get behind the wheel while impaired by drugs.

Hallock sentenced Benjamin Black, 29, of Sycamore, to 12 years in prison for driving with heroin in his system during the crash that killed 11-year-old Matthew Ranken of Sycamore. He had at least four prior convictions for driving on a suspended license, prosecutors said.

"The defendant has a prior criminal history," Hallock said. "It shows a mindset of the defendant's total disregard for this public's safety."

The ruling, which was delayed when Hallock said he needed more time to review all the evidence, was more serious than the eight years defense attorney D.J. Tegeler requested. Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Cullen suggested a sentence at the upper end of the three-to-14-year range Black faced.

Members of the Ranken family were in tears after the ruling, and stone-faced members of the Black family hurried out of the courtroom.

Chris Weber, one of Matthew Ranken's older brothers, said the sentence will give some closure for the whole family.

"All in all, I'm just glad my little brother can finally rest in peace," Weber said.

Black pleaded guilty as part of an agreement Nov. 14 to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence.

Black was driving his SUV 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, authorities said. The crash killed Ranken and severely injured 19-year-old Teale Noble, also of Sycamore; both were passengers in the Cavalier. Ranken's oldest brother, Nick Weber, of Sycamore, was driving 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, authorities said. Black has admitted he is a heroin addict, Tegeler said.

Tegeler said he plans to ask Hallock to reconsider the sentence within the next 30 days because Hallock used the fact the crash caused serious physical harm twice against his client.

Since he will serve 85 percent of his sentence, Black is expected to be released from prison in a little more than 10 years. He will be required to serve two years of parole after he is released.

"[Black] feels horrified his actions have caused a death," Tegeler said outside court. "He's having trouble forgetting that it occurred and forgiving himself."

At a sentencing hearing March 20, Black asked members of the Ranken family to accept his apology but said he didn't expect them to forgive him.

Tonda Ranken, Matthew Ranken's mother, said she thought Black's apology was sincere but didn't say whether she will ever forgive him.

"I do want to see him get some help and become a better person," she said.

She said her family is glad the case is over for now so they can move on.

"Now it's time to heal," Tonda Ranken said. "I don't have to worry about that anymore."

Black still faces a theft charge in DeKalb County in which he is accused of stealing about $4,000 worth of brass and copper from a Cortland manufacturing business. He is next due in court for that charge April 2.

DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack said any sentence Black receives in the theft case would be served at the same time as his 12-year prison term.

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