Teen pleads guilty in crash that injured Duluth girl
The judge had little sympathy for an apologetic Christopher Wilczek,who admitted Wednesday that he drove under the influence of alcohol, ran his SUV into a tree and caused numerous and severe injuries to his passenger,
18-year-old Zadie Morgan of Hermantown, and then failed to report the accident to police or seek medical attention for his friend.
"I know there's nothing I can do that would make up fully for the choices I made that night," Wilczek told the court. "Because of my actions, I have hurt many people, especially Zadie. I wish every day that it would have been me that was hurt instead of her. I deserved it, she doesn't."
Morgan drifted in and out of consciousness after the June 4 accident. Bones in her face were broken. Her nose was hanging by a small amount of flesh still attached to her lower left nostril. Wilczek said her teeth fell out as he gave her CPR.
Shaun Morgan, the father of the victim, told the court Wilczek's apology rang hollow.
But it was the words and opinion of his daughter that meant the most to Morgan and he relayed them to everyone assembled in the St. Louis County courtroom.
"Your honor, my, my, daughter feels a great amount of pity and sorrow and sympathy for Mr. Wilczek," Morgan said. "As a father, I'm proud to say I raised her to be that way. I, however, do not. Yet. ...
"I hope he's learned from this. I hope he continues to learn from this, as my daughter has and continues to do so. ... I wish I could have as much sympathy and compassion as she does. ... I hope and pray for his soul. I do do that. Yet forgiveness for me has not yet fully come. But on her behalf, I wanted to make that statement. She wanted to try to attend, to be here today, (but) unfortunately, was not yet able to do so."
Zadie Morgan, who has thought about a career as a model, has undergone five surgeries and needs at least three more.
Morgan ended his statement by looking toward the defendant and saying: "She cares very much for you. And for me right now that's good enough."
Wilczek, who turned 18 six days after the June 4 accident, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular operation causing great bodily harm.
The hearing had been scheduled to certify Wilczek to stand trial as an adult. But a plea agreement was reached between prosecutor Charles Schumacher and defense attorney Mikkel Long with input from Arrowhead Regional Corrections juvenile probation officer Tammy Kimball, law enforcement and the victim's family. The justice selected for Wilczek was reached after an assessment based on several evaluations, including a psychological study.
Wilczek will be handled under "extended juvenile jurisdiction," where convicted felons younger than 18 at the time of their offense receive both a juvenile sentence and a stayed adult prison term. It requires rehabilitative treatment while in detention and follow-up monitoring and care after release. An adult prison term awaits those who violate the terms of their juvenile sentence.
Judge Shaun Floerke stayed an 18-month adult prison sentence for the extended juvenile sentence in which Wilczek will remain on probation until he is 21. He must perform 500 hours of community service and participate in the Arrowhead Juvenile Center felony offender program and any aftercare recommended. He must undergo a chemical dependency evaluation and complete any treatment recommended. Floerke said he will keep the restitution Wilczek might have to pay open until the civil lawsuit Morgan's family has filed against Wilczek and his father has been settled.
Wilczek's father, Daniel, still faces two felony charges of aiding an offender in the incident. Christopher Wilczek told the court he telephoned his father after the accident and was told to stay where he was and not to call anyone because his father was coming to get him and the victim and bring them home.
Wilczek, who graduated from Hermantown High School this year, said he had been drinking at a "senior kegger" that night. He estimated that he drank five or six 16-ounce cups of Keystone Light beer the night of the accident, but said he couldn't be sure exactly how many. He said his judgment was clouded and his response time was slow. "I should not have been driving," he said.
Floerke told Shaun Morgan that he is the father of three sons and two daughters and he appreciated Morgan's comments. But the judge apparently didn't think he heard enough of an explanation from Wilczek on why he did what he did.
"Why didn't you dial 911?'' the judge asked Wilczek.
"It was an error in judgment on my part. I was scared. I know I should have," Wilczek said.
"Zadie was your friend," Floerke said.
"Yes, she was," Wilczek said.
"You hurt her badly in this accident," the judge said.
"Yes, I did, your honor," Wilczek said.
"What's been your thought on the proposition that you harmed your friend?" Floerke asked.
"I feel horrible about it," Wilczek said. "I have nightmares about it. It's something that will haunt me for the rest of my life."
"It should," Floerke said.