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A heartbreaking loss of an angel in Highland Park

Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:28AM

As a father, my heart goes out to the family of 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos Sacramento, who died on a beautiful Labor Day while on an afternoon stroll with her mother and siblings near their home in Highland Park.

I feel terribly sorry as well for the parents of 18-year-old Carly Rousso, who drove the Lexus coupe — while allegedly intoxicated with a chemical product — that killed Jaclyn and sent her mother and two brothers to the hospital.

Carly faces charges of reckless homicide and aggravated DUI. She is free on bond and is looking at a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The family of Jaclyn also has filed a civil suit against Carly seeking damages in excess of $50,000. The suit alleges Carly’s vehicle struck Jaclyn at least twice as she reversed direction trying to back away from the scene.

This is a tragedy for both families. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering Jaclyn’s family is going through after losing a daughter, who had just started kindergarten, in such a senseless and horrific way.

But the parents of Carly must be going through hell as well, knowing their daughter is accused of killing a child and might be going to jail for many years.

The Latino community of Highland Park reacted soon after news broke of the accident and death of little Jaclyn. Support for the family, who are from Mexico, has been overwhelming. Donations to a family fund are exceeding expectations, having topped $73,500 so far.

More than 1,000 people showed up to a vigil three days after the fatal accident. And since Carly was not immediately arrested and charged, the memorial turned into a peaceful demonstration for “justice for an angel.”

Latino residents suspected Carly was given preferential treatment because she is the daughter of a well-known Highland Park couple. David Rousso is a board member of the Art Center-Highland Park, and her mother, Gabrielle, is the executive director.

Mayor Nancy Rotering publicly expressed concerns about perceived delays of Lake County prosecutors in handling the case. Later, the mayor attended the vigil.

Just hours after Rotering complained, Carly was charged with one misdemeanor of driving under the influence. The prosecutors claimed the case was being handled in the same way as similar cases of this magnitude.

On Sept. 11, the day of Jaclyn’s funeral, Carly was arrested and presented with the more serious charges. She is due back in court on Oct. 9.

Mayor Rotering was right to press the prosecution. There can be no room for even the perception of preferential treatment in this case.

The legal process must fairly run its course and Carly should be fairly setenced if she is found guilty.

We can only hope Jaclyn’s parents will find ways to deal with the worst nightmare a parent can go through. The support of their church and the Highland Park community will, no doubt, help ease some of their suffering.

But for Carly and her parents, this is a nightmare, too.

A little girl is gone and a teenager may well spend years in prison, leaving behind two devastated families.

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