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A Naperville man charged with DUI and reckless homicide sobbed, saying "oh my God" as video footage showing his car fatally striking a Downers Grove high school student was played in court Tuesday.
Joseph Kucharski's bond was set at $750,000 one week after he allegedly struck Downers Grove North High School junior Beth Dunlap as she walked outside her school.
The 17-year-old was struck by Kucharski's car while crossing Main Street around 11 a.m. last Tuesday, according to a statement issued by DuPage County police. The young volleyball player was within a marked crosswalk and had a "walk" signal, according to police, when Kucharski's vehicle allegedly crossed into the oncoming lanes and entered the intersection on a red light, police said.
Prosecutors said Kucharski had a blood alcohol concentration of .031 at the time of the deadly crash and officers at the scene noticed signs of impairment. They said Kucharski fell asleep minutes after the crash and told police "I should have just kept driving."
Kucharski's vehicle hit the teen so hard her backpack was lodged in his front bumper, prosecutors said.
Later, authorities found two crack pipes, crack cocaine and other drugs at a hotel room where Kucharski was staying, prosecutors said in court. They noted that he has two previous DUI arrests, one of which was pleaded down to reckless driving.
Dunlap died Friday from her injuries, prosecutors said.
"First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to Beth’s family and friends," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement. "They have suffered a devastating loss that no amount of time can heal. Their unimaginable heartbreak is shared by the staff and students at Downers Grove North High School as well as the entire community. The loss of such a wonderful young woman, who was full of life, will have a profound lasting effect on the lives of countless DuPage County residents."
Charges against Kucharski were upgraded Monday to felony aggravated DUI resulting in death and one count of reckless homicide. The upgraded charges mean Kucharski faces three to 14 years in prison if convicted.
Kucharski's attorney called the case "very, very sad," but declined to comment further.
"Those who know Beth know that she was a fierce competitor and a strong person," Principal Janice Schwarze said in a school announcement. "As hard as this loss is for all of us, I believe that she would want us to be strong and take care of each other. In fact, Beth’s family has ensured that she will take care of others by donating her organs. While this tragedy has forever changed the lives of many in our community, the lives of other people have new hope because of Beth."
School officials said Dunlap was a volleyball player who wore the number 18.
"Consider doing something positive in regards to this number in her honor," Schwarze said. "For example, you might perform 18 random acts of kindness. You might donate $18 to a charity. Do what feels right."
The school also held a moment of silence for 18 seconds.
Kucharski's next court appearance is scheduled for March 15.