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Former detective receives eight-year sentence for deadly DUI crash

Joseph Frugoli arrives Cook County Criminal Courts  Friday November 16 2012 . |  John H. White~Sun-Times

Joseph Frugoli arrives at Cook County Criminal Courts, Friday, November 16, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 19, 2012 1:34PM

A former Chicago police detective, a self-confessed alcoholic, who drunkenly plowed into a stalled car in 2009, then walked away from the two men burning to death on the Dan Ryan, was sentenced to eight years in prison Friday.

His victims’ families called the sentence a slap in the face, a favor for 18-year police veteran Joseph Frugoli.

“Fausto Manzera was my only son, who was killed by Joseph Frugoli, and we just witnessed corruption at its best,” Maria Velez said after the hearing. “We just witnessed the police department getting favoritism.

“Eight years for the life of two boys, two lives taken, eight years, where is the justice in that,” she said, sobbing.

“It’s like a slap in the face, it’s an injustice, it’s like we don’t even matter. … For a judge to put eight years on the lives, it’s not fair,” she said, crying then shrieking the litany until her relatives led her out of the courthouse.

Andrew Cazares’ mother echoed her sentiments, saying in Spanish she wished Frugoli would have served more time.

“Nothing will bring my son back,” said Lorena Buenrostro, “but (Frugoli’s) going to get out and spend happy times with his daughter. Not me. All I can do is take flowers for my only son to the cemetery.”

In September, Frugoli pleaded guilty to killing Manzera, 21, of Chicago, and Cazares, 23, of Summit and was convicted of two counts of aggravated DUI that caused a death, and leaving the scene. His blood-alcohol level, when measured in the early morning hours of April 10, 2009, was 0.277 — triple the legal limit, according to prosecutors. He had faced a minimum of six years in prison.

The 45-year-old, whose attorneys begged for probation, was led away uncuffed by Cook County sheriff’s deputies to the jail where he was promised to be kept in protective custody.

The night of the crash, Manzera and Cazares were stuck in a stalled-out Dodge Intrepid on an entrance ramp to the Dan Ryan Expressway around 3:30 a.m. Within minutes of calling for help, their car was struck by a black SUV that rolled over a few times, according to a state police investigator. One Good Samaritan tried to get them out of their car, which had burst into flames, but could not before they burned to death.

Another ran to free Frugoli from his vehicle, Assistant State’s Attorney LuAnn Snow said, getting the officer’s blood on his shirt, which later proved invaluable after the off-duty detective walked away from the crash up the expressway ramp.

“Why not stay?” Snow asked. “Because he was escaping responsibility for his DUI, for his 0.277.”

In asking for a substantial prison term, prosecutors also told of two other crashes Frugoli caused, one in 2005 also on the Dan Ryan, and one in 2008, where he t-boned a marked Chicago squad car not far from his own Bridgeport home, landing one of the officers in the hospital. The state trooper who investigated the Jan. 16, 2005, crash told the judge Friday he’d smelled alcohol on Frugoli’s breath that late night but didn’t have a chance to examine Frugoli before an ambulance arrived.

Lt. Michael Kraft said he went to the hospital to see about a blood test, but Frugoli left without receiving any treatment, nor was he found at his home.

Friday, Frugoli said he had a chance to do something he’d been waiting for since April 2009: “From my heart I want to apologize to the families of Fausto Manzera and Andrew Cazares. It’s not appropriate to ask for forgiveness. That would be selfish on my part. Forgiveness is theirs to grant.”

Frugoli spoke of the police career he cherished, of the detective work that had him knocking on doors late at night to notify families that their loved ones had died, of the terrible anguish that crept across their faces.

“I never in my life thought I’d be the cause of that pain,” he said.

He turned to Judge Charles P Burns: “I’m just hoping you’ll consider my many good days before you judge me for my worst.”

Burns acknowledged the apology and the remorse but said he could not ignore Frugoli’s drunkenness.

“I can’t get away from the fact of how drunk you were that night, Mr. Frugoli,” Burns said.

Public servants are held to a different standard, a higher one.

“We know better, we should know better,” the judge continued, “and acts we commit we know we should held responsible for.”

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