Woman who killed five teens in DUI crash pens apologetic letter from prison
BY DENISE CROSBY Sun-Times Media email@example.com June 23, 2012 11:58PM
Sandra Vasquez and her mother, Monica, walk into the Kendall County Courthouse during Vasquez' trial. | Courier-News
Updated: July 25, 2012 6:43AM
“For so long I’ve been patiently waiting for the chance to write to you . . . It was important that I share with you so many unspoken words.”
Sometimes the handwriting was cursive and controlled, rolling across the six pages of yellow legal paper like formal script. Then, gradually, the letters became less elaborate, eventually morphing into simple but neatly printed words. At times, the sentences contained a mixture of both styles.
But all of her words, written from inside the walls of the Lincoln Correctional Center, were gut-wrenching, revealing. And they conveyed that Sandra Vasquez takes responsibility for her actions that led to the crash in February 2007 that killed five Oswego teens and sent her to prison until 2023 for aggravated drunken driving and reckless homicide.
“I have always been and will always be sorry for everything I’ve done that led up to this tragic end. And please let it be clear just because I appealed did not mean I was not sorry or take responsibility for my actions.”
Throughout the high-profile trial in 2010 and even after she was found guilty and sent to prison, some of the victims’ families doubted her sincerity, labeling her outbursts of remorse in the courtroom as theatrics to gain pity from the judge and jury.
In the letter, Vasquez specifically addressed that criticism — and why she has not reached out to these grieving loved ones since being imprisoned. “. . . maybe one day they will forgive me . . . as for now, I was advised that during my incarceration if I attempt to contact any of the victims or families I could be reprimanded . . . though they must know how sorry I am.”
The beginning of her letter addressed how hard it was being portrayed as a monster by the press. She praised her mother, a woman she described as strong, loving, courageous, who has been left with “heartache and much responsibility” — yet has never complained to a single soul.
She also was grateful to her family for their unyielding support. And she wrote at length about how hard her imprisonment is on her children, now 11 and 5. Just like the teens in the car, Vasquez says her son and daughter are both “victims of my actions.”
“I know it has been said many times I am lucky to even get visits with my babies. I understand where this pain is coming from.”
Then she writes about the anguish of seeing her children in a prison visiting room, and saying goodbye each time to a daughter who understands too little, and an older son who understands too well that “mommy made some bad decisions which resulted in the deaths of five angels now in heaven and three wounded children . . . ”
“I fight back tears that sharply want to reveal themselves. . . . I then explain to her because of my bad choice I have to be away from what I love the most as my punishment. She has yet to understand the concept of consequences this severe.”
On the other hand, her son, who survived “severe health problems” as a baby knows she has “10 years and nine months left.”
“I fought so to keep him alive as a baby. I never left his side — scared of what would happen if I even blinked — and now I left him . . . I was supposed to always be there for him.”
Being apart from her children, she wrote, is “as if my right arm has been amputated.” And she questions whether it was a mistake to have spent time growing closer to them while out on bond as she awaited trial.
“If I could go home to them until they were 18 yrs old I would gladly come back and spend the rest of my life in prison — even after experiencing it firsthand now — without a visit or a phone call. But unfortunately I don’t have that option.”
Much of the letter dwells on the guilt she lives with every day. Vasquez crashed her car on Illinois 31 in Oswego while attempting to give rides home to eight teens who had been at an underage drinking party where she had gone to pick up her younger sister.
“I think of everyone I’ve hurt, and the fact remains, behind my bad decision was a good intention. And I know the survivors know this in their heart & those who are not here today they know I have always been sorry and if my remorse is not outspoken enough for some, I’m okay with that . . . because God knows where my intentions were.”
Vasquez wrote specifically about the victims — the three who survived and the five who did not.
“I pray and think about Bobby Larsen, Arielle Rexford and Josh Dillon every night along with Matt Frank, Jessica Nutoni, Katie Merkel, Tiffany Urso and James McGee. I pray for their souls and their guidance throughout my journey wherever it may lead me . . . To heal takes time and I pray that all the families one day begin to heal as well.”
Until then, she added, “I will continue to pray and keep faith that maybe one day they will forgive me.”
As her writing gradually picked up its original flowing script again, Sandra Vasquez concluded her letter with a final prayer: to “leave Lincoln with the strength of my mother and the courage of my father and with all the love of my family and children.”
Those who know her best say it is through this support Vasquez will find a way to keep going “long after I feel as if I’ve lost everything.”