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Crime & Courts

Sentencing delayed for man who left children behind after Sycamore crash

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County Judge John McAdams thinks there might be a better option for James Colpen than prison or probation.

Colpen, 34, of DeKalb, has a checkered history: He's been to prison twice and faces up to 18 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to retail theft and obstructing justice. He started drinking and doing drugs around age 13, when his mother divorced his abusive father, but has found God and an eagerness for treatment in the past 6 months.

"This case, when I hear it, it screams out drug court," McAdams said.

So, rather than finishing a sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon, McAdams gave Colpen a week to meet with drug court leaders again. Colpen met with Drug Court Administrator Marilyn Stromborg in July, but with no documentation of why the application didn't go further, McAdams urged him to take another crack at it.

Colpen, defense attorney Brian Erwin, and Assistant State's Attorney Megan Brannon agreed. Colpen's sentencing hearing will continue Thursday.

Brannon had urged McAdams to sentence Colpen to five years in prison for two separate offenses. He admitted to stealing a television from Walmart in DeKalb on Feb. 28, 2013.

About a month later, on March 25, 2013, he sat in the passenger seat as his 13-year-old niece drove a vehicle with his 5-year-old son improperly secured in the back seat, authorities said. After the 13-year-old crashed the car into Chuck's Auto Center, 1625 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore, Colpen drove off and left the two children behind.

But according to court testimony Thursday, Colpen struggles with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. He's been jailed for about a year and has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there for about 10 months, but has only been seeking help for his addictions for about 6 months.

Erwin, his defense attorney, argued that prison would not offer help for his mental health issues. While he could have access to substance abuse treatment in prison, it wouldn't allow him to develop a support network to stay clean afterward, Erwin said.

Erwin initially urged McAdams to pair probation with aggressive substance abuse treatment.

"If he fails [or if] he commits new crimes, he knows he's going to prison," Erwin said.

Meanwhile, Brannon argued his change in attitude within the past six months likely was related to him not having access to mood-altering substances in jail.

For his part, Colpen pointed to his growing faith, the support of his mother and sister and a strong desire to be a better father for his four children.

"With my new faith in God, I am a much stronger man," Colpen said. "... I never want to use drugs and alcohol again. They have ruined my life."

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