Nine years for man who killed woman in DUI crash at Balmoral Park
BY JON SEIDEL Sun-Times Media email@example.com April 12, 2012 12:17PM
Updated: April 12, 2012 2:54PM
Angus Lake said he planned a year ago to marry Michelle Eustis — his best friend and a woman prosecutors called a happy, loving young person.
Lake told a judge Thursday he knew he shouldn’t have been driving his white Dodge Ram at Balmoral Park in the early morning hours of April 11, 2011. He had several beers hours earlier at a nearby bar, and then he helped pass around a Captain Morgan bottle in a barn back at the racetrack, police said.
What’s more, Lake’s been in trouble for drinking and driving at least three times before in his home state of Michigan, Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Colon-Sayre said.
Colon-Sayre said Lake didn’t learn a lesson from those arrests, though it could have saved the life of a woman Lake said he “loved deeply.” He told police he got behind the wheel of his truck feeling buzzed, and then prosecutors said he drove it into the horse Eustis had been riding with her now 22-year-old friend, Heather France.
Eustis and France fell to the ground, and Eustis died. She left behind a now 8-year-old daughter. And Thursday, about a year after the accident, Will County Judge Richard Schoenstedt sentenced Lake to nine years in prison.
He told a Joliet courtroom full of relatives of Lake and Eustis he wanted to send a message.
“The events of that night, although unusual, were certainly preventable,” Schoenstedt said.
It all followed a day of racing and a night of drinking for Eustis, Lake and France at nearby Throwback Bar & Grill in Crete, according to witnesses.
They drank at that bar until it closed, and then they accepted another horse racer’s invitation to drink at a gathering in his Balmoral barn.
Eustis and France eventually left that barn together to ride bareback on a horse named Rendezvous. Lake, who police said had four or five swigs from the rum bottle there, got in his truck to go looking for them about 20 minutes later.
Lake found the women on their horse just before 5 a.m. on Backstretch Road, police said. Lake told officers he drove up alongside the horse, which bucked its head and hit the truck. He said he’d been driving about 20 mph.
But an Illinois State Police accident reconstructionist determined Lake hit his brakes hard when he came upon the horse, spinning his truck and hitting the rear of the horse with the rear of his truck. He said Lake couldn’t have been driving any slower than 46 mph.
Afterward, witnesses and police testified, Lake was wobbly and his eyes bloodshot. His blood-alcohol count after the accident was 0.147.
Michelle Eustis’ sister, Jaquelyn Eustis, asked Schoenstedt last week to give Lake the maximum possible punishment of 14 years in prison for aggravated driving under the influence. Lake pleaded guilty to the charge in January.
“When Michelle died, a part of me died with her,” she said. “I learned an entire new meaning of the phrase, ‘I miss you.’ We were supposed to do so many things together, and now all of that is taken away.
“It breaks my heart that she will never be at my wedding, be my maid of honor or have her own wedding. She will never see my daughter or her own grow up.”
The judge told the courtroom Thursday he believed Lake’s remorseful comments, which included an apology to Eustis’ family. But later, outside the courtroom, Eustis’ father said he didn’t buy it.
“I didn’t believe a word he said,” Chuck Eustis said. He also said he thinks Lake was jealous and suspicious because his daughter had previously dated the owner of the barn. Lake told the judge he was worried something had happened to the women.
Julie Primozic, one of Lake’s attorneys, said her client took responsibility for the accident immediately. But Marcus Turner, a Balmoral horse racer who arrived at the accident scene shortly after the crash, told the judge Lake was smoking a cigarette when he arrived and had to be told twice to call 911.
A Balmoral Park security guard has previously said Lake disobeyed orders to stay at the scene after the crash. He said Lake led him on a 10-minute pursuit through the park grounds until Lake stopped at a barn, washed his hands and tried to feed race horses.
Primozic questioned the validity of the accident reconstructionist who she said didn’t consider the variables of a crash involving a horse. She also said Lake has accepted that he’s an alcoholic.
“He understands that he needs treatment,” Primozic said.