An Illinois State Police trooper said Wednesday that he often thinks of Frank Caruso as "someone I was unable to help."
In February 2012, Caruso was seated in Trooper Matthew Woodiel's squad, which had stopped on Interstate 290 near Addison after the officer responded to an accident that involved Caruso. While the two chatted, a Chicago man who was driving drunk plowed his car into the squad, killing the 42-year-old Caruso, of Brookfield.
Woodiel testified in DuPage County court at the sentencing hearing for Daniel Clark, 34, who pleaded guilty this summer to aggravated DUI.
Woodiel had invited Caruso inside the patrol car to stay warm, he said. The trooper's car was parked in the roadway behind Caruso's vehicle blocking off two lanes of traffic and had its emergency lights activated when Clark drove into it about 1 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2012.
"Even though I only met Mr. Caruso for a few moments, he will be with me for the rest of my life, the memory of someone I was unable to help who died on my watch," Woodiel told Judge Kathryn Creswell.
The hearing is expected to end Thursday.
Woodiel's video camera was on during the crash, and prosecutors played the recording in court. Although the camera was pointed out onto the passing traffic, the audio captured the minutes before the crash, as the officer and Caruso made small talk over the routine, regular chatter of the police radio.
Then, a loud crash could be heard as the camera's perspective spun with the vehicle. Witnesses who stopped to help could be heard talking to the injured officer and describing the crash to paramedics who arrived minutes later.
"He ran right into him without stopping. He didn't even put his brakes on," said one voice, that of a motorist, on the tape.
In her victim impact statement, Caruso's mother, Mary Ann Caruso, said she grieved for the youngest of her six children, but said she had forgiven Clark and said Frank Caruso would have offered forgiveness, too.
"Daniel, please hear him and our family and learn from your punishment," she told Clark. "Take responsibility for your choices and actions and never again let anyone experience the pain and suffering you have caused us all."
Authorities said Clark's blood-alcohol content was at .19. He was headed home from a bar in Itasca, according to police.
An accident reconstruction specialist estimated Clark was driving about 70 mph. He was not seriously injured; Woodiel suffered a concussion and whiplash. Caruso was pronounced dead at an area hospital.
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