Prosecutors: Hit-run driver knew woman was alive when he left
By JON SEIDEL, LAUREN FITZPATRICK AND BRIAN STANLEY Sun-Times Media February 27, 2012 10:40AM
Michelle Lech and her mother, Maria Lech, visit the roadside memorial where her sister and Maria's daughter, Melissa Lech, was struck and killed three years ago by a 20-year-old college student. David H. McCarthy knocked on Michelle Lech's door Sunday morning and admitted he was the driver. February 27, 2012 | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Since the day prosecutors said David H. McCarthy struck and killed Melissa Lech, he has been arrested for DUI and assaulting a family member.
McCarthy pleaded guilty on June 15, 2009, to misdemeanor domestic battery from a 2009 incident against a male relative and was sentenced to two years’ probation. He also served 71 days in the DuPage County Jail, court records show.
At 3:15 a.m. on March 27, 2010, he was stopped in downtown Naperville and charged with DUI and other traffic offenses. He was convicted of reckless driving, ordered to pay $1,330 and serve a year on court supervision, according to the records. His supervision expired on Feb. 14, records show.
He had previous speeding tickets from March 2001, April 2001, March 2002 (for driving 40 mph or more over the speed limit) and December 2007, records show.
Updated: March 29, 2012 8:07AM
The stranger wanted to clear his conscience.
He rang a doorbell at a home in Joliet. And he woke a couple who had spent a late night visiting family.
A man answered the door, but the visitor on the doorstep would only talk to Michelle Lech. And he wanted to come in.
He called himself “Dave,” and he said he had information about Michelle’s sister Melissa, the 20-year-old college student killed in a hit-and-run accident on the side of a dark Joliet road 31/2 years ago. So Michelle let him in, and he sat down at her kitchen table.
That’s when he told her how he’d driven into her sister on Aug. 7, 2008, how he got scared, how she was still alive when he stopped to check on her, and how he drove off, leaving her to die.
He didn’t give his last name. He didn’t say he planned to turn himself in to police. And he certainly didn’t apologize.
“It’s as if he was doing this for himself, not us,” Michelle said.
So Michelle thought quickly. She turned to her husband and said “Idz na pole” — Polish for “go outside.” She wanted him to write down the man’s license plate number.
“He knew what I was talking about,” Lech said.
And had it not been for that, Lech and her family still might not know “Dave” was 27-year-old David H. McCarthy, who is now being held in lieu of $1 million bail in Will County. Police tracked him down at his Naperville home after he visited Lech on Sunday morning. His father, a Naperville attorney of the same name, said he never knew of the crash. And he offered his sympathies to Lech’s family.
On Monday, as she stood in the 2800 block of McDonough Street where her daughter died, though, Maria Lech said she can’t forgive the younger McCarthy.
“He left a living person dying on the ground and he kept going, and this is unforgivable,” Maria Lech said. “Humans — they don’t do that.”
‘I needed to say
what I needed to say’
Melissa Lech, a Plainfield South High School graduate, died just before she could start her junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She joined some friends at a White Sox game the night before the accident, and then the group went to a Joliet sports bar.
She left the bar and began to walk along Infantry Drive to McDonough Street. At 12:20 a.m., she was run down near the Illinois Youth Center. A driver farther down the road told police he came across her body and called 911 after seeing taillights brake and swerve.
But the other vehicle was gone.
Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Fillipitch said Monday that McCarthy has claimed he got lost looking for Interstate 55 that night, driving down “a dark road” when he hit Lech. He admitted he stopped and realized the girl had been seriously injured, Fillipitch said. But when other cars approached, he got scared and drove off.
He said all of this to Michelle Lech and her husband. But when police tried to question him, he said, “I needed to say what I needed to say, and I have a clear conscience,” Fillipitch said.
After Melissa Lech was killed, her family, the city of Joliet and CrimeStoppers offered $25,000 in rewards for information about the accident. But it apparently took a NASCAR race to get McCarthy’s attention.
Driver Kevin Conway put Melissa Lech’s picture on his car during a race in Joliet in September. And when McCarthy visited Michelle Lech Sunday, he told her he saw “the NASCAR thing.”
And he started thinking.
‘I should go’
Michelle Lech and her husband, Dariusz Majka, spent Saturday evening at her mother’s house. They stayed late, and they were still sleeping when he rang their doorbell around 9 a.m. Sunday.
McCarthy asked to speak to Michelle, and when she heard their conversation, she walked downstairs and answered the door.
When he said he had information about Melissa, Michelle let him in, and they sat down at the kitchen table.
“He admitted to me that he struck her with his car,” Michelle Lech said. “He was the one that ran over her — and then he left. And that’s the fact that I can’t get over is that he left her there. He didn’t call the police. He didn’t come forward.”
She said she felt scared having McCarthy in her home — she didn’t know what he’d do. But she asked questions, like whether he’d go to the police.
His answer: “I have to think about it.”
That hesitation enraged the Lech family Monday.
“He just wanted to get it out,” Michelle Lech said. “If he wanted to clear his conscience, he cleared his conscience. But he still didn’t apologize.”
Eventually, McCarthy said “I should go,” and he left. The couple called police immediately, and Michelle Lech said she was shaking during the seven minutes it took for officers to arrive.
No anger, just shock
When Joliet police tracked McCarthy down later that day at his home, “it appeared he was expecting them,” Joliet police Cmdr. Brian Benton said.
His father, Naperville attorney David McCarthy, said he never knew his son had been involved in an accident until a police officer told him Sunday.
“I didn’t know who the victim was until this morning,” said the elder McCarthy, who said he had not talked to his son since his arrest.
McCarthy said he doesn’t practice criminal law, and his son asked for a public defender at Monday’s court hearing.
He appeared in court via video, and sat back with crossed arms at first, then leaned forward intently as the allegations against him were listed.
A few hours later Maria Lech said the shock of hearing the man’s confession had overwhelmed any anger. But she said she’s hired a lawyer to make sure her daughter gets justice.
“We’re just hoping this time the system will work for someone who died,” Lech said. “Not someone who suddenly wanted to clear his mind.”
Contributing: Kara Spak and Bill Bird