Tour bus driver gets 34-year prison term in deadly crash, sex abuse case
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter November 14, 2013 3:02PM
�Tour bus driver David Soto (right) was sentenced for the deadly bus crash that killed Justyna Palka (left) as she was walking blocks from her Streeterville home in May 2011.
Updated: December 16, 2013 6:29AM
Malgorzata Palka left Poland for Germany mainly to keep her daughter safe from the dangerous aftereffects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Justyna was Palka’s “life’s mission” and the embodiment of a “dream for a better, happy life.”
Justyna didn’t disappoint.
She grew up to be a successful graphic artist who surprised others with her ideas and charm.
But Justyna Palka’s promising life was cut short when a tour bus driver wanted for molesting two young girls slammed into her in a drug-filled haze as she crossed a Streeterville street more than two years ago.
“My heart is broken. My soul is hollow. I will be crying to the end of my life,” one of Justyna Palka’s older brothers wrote in a victim-impact statement that was read in Cook County Judge William Lacy’s courtroom Thursday.
Soto, 50, received a 14-year sentenced for the crash that killed Palka, who was an art director at the communications firm Ogilvy & Mather. In August, the tour bus company agreed to pay Palka’s family $6.75 million to settle a civil lawsuit tied to the woman’s death.
Lacy on Thursday also gave Soto an additional 14 years in prison for one of the sex cases and six years for the other matter, according to court records.
Soto, who worked for Pontarelli Group Charter, twice told paramedics that he didn’t see Palka and was only trying to take a right turn with his tour bus when he hit her in May 2011. Palka had taken four to five steps into the crosswalk on Columbus at East Illinois when she was struck. She was only blocks from her home.
Soto had cocaine in his system at the time of the accident.
Upon his arrest, detectives also learned that Soto was wanted by authorities for attacking two minor girls.
Court records show Soto was ticketed roughly 20 times for traffic violations between 1988 and 2008.
Malgorzata Palka said the tragedy would never have happened if the troubled Soto hadn’t been given a job driving a tour bus.
“A man sought by the police for two years for unthinkable wrongs against innocent young girls, a drug user, was irresponsibly hired and unchecked. . . . Justyna should still be with us,” the distraught mother wrote in her victim-impact statement.
Justyna Palka was born in Poland and emigrated from Germany in 2005. The former Chicago Magazine intern lived next door to her mother and stepfather in the 400 block of North McClurg Court.
She came to Chicago from Dortmund, Germany, and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.
Palka was “true to her name, which means rule of law, or law-abiding,” her mother said.
Soto, meanwhile, had led a less than exemplary life, according to prosecutors.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1993 for an aggravated criminal sexual assault conviction involving a 6-year-old relative who was at his house in the 1900 block of North Kenneth for a birthday party and sleepover on May 30, 1992.
Soto also received a four-year prison sentence in 1982 for attempted rape and aggravated battery.
Then on Dec. 28, 2008, Soto had fondled an 8-year-old girl who went to sleep over at his house with a friend and the friend’s mother, prosecutors said.
When the girl told her friend’s mother about what had occurred, the woman took both children from the home that night. That’s when the woman’s daughter told her mother that Soto had “also touched” her, prosecutors said.
The abuse against that girl took place between June 2006 and June 2008 when she was 6 or 7 at Soto ’s former Chicago residence.