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Suburban Officer Charged in Fatal Crash in Plea Talks; Families Want a Say

By Erin Meyer | February 25, 2014 11:29am
 Terrell Garrett, a North Chicago police officer, was allegedly drunk when prosecutors say he drove the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive in 2013, crashing into a Jeep and killing Fabian Torres and Joaquin Garcia.
Lake Shore Drive crash
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COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A suburban police officer charged in an allegedly drunken, wrong-way crash on Lake Shore Drive that killed two men is in plea talks with prosecutors, but family members of the victims are pushing for a tough sentence.

North Chicago Police Officer Terrell Garrett had a change-of-plea hearing Monday, but it was put off while the Illinois Supreme Court considers a request to allow the family of one of the men killed in the crash to offer a victim impact statement before any sentence is handed down.

Fabian Torres, 27, and Joaquin Garcia, 25, were killed in the March 15, 2013, crash. Before any plea deal is hammered out, the Torres family wants to address the court with a victim impact statement, typically given between a conviction at trial and a judge's sentencing.

Cook County Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan, who is hearing the case, denied the Torres family's request to make victim impact statements before a possible plea and sentence. So family members asked the Illinois Supreme Court to step in and force the judge to let them give statements before Garrett is sentenced if he pleads guilty, said the Torres family attorney, Nick Kefalos.

"They seek the chance to impress upon the judge ... how their lives have been inexplicably changed by what they describe as the selfish acts of a police officer who decided to drive drunk after a day of binge drinking," Kefalos said in a written statement.

The suburban officer had been celebrating his 35th birthday in the early morning hours of March 15, 2013, when he allegedly got behind the wheel of his SUV while drunk, prosecutors said.

He drove the wrong way onto the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive at LaSalle Street and continued for about two miles before crashing head-on into a Jeep near Belmont Avenue and Diversey Parkway, killing Torres and Garcia, prosecutors said.

Garrett initially pleaded not guilty to aggravated DUI and reckless homicide and has not officially entered a new plea.

But as the anniversary of the fatal wreck approaches, he is prepared to change his plea, according to court records and the judge in the case.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office declined to comment on any pending plea deal.

Family members of the two men who died said they were afraid he was going to get off too easily. Court records indicate that prosecutors and Garrett's attorneys have discussed a 10-year sentence.

"We've been told [Garrett] will be sentenced to only 10 years," said Kefalos. "These lives are worth more than 10 years."

During a brief court hearing Monday, Brosnahan put off any ruling on a plea agreement, noting the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on the family's request. She scheduled a new date for a possible plea agreement hearing for March 14, the day before the one-year anniversary of the crash.

Garrett, who became a North Chicago officer in 2008, was stripped of his police powers after his arrest. He has been in the Cook County Jail for almost one year. 

A law firm representing Garrett did not return calls seeking comment.