Highland Park police are investigating whether an 18-year-old was “huffing” from compressed gas canisters or similar intoxicants before she crashed her father’s car into a family on Labor Day, killing a 5-year-old girl.
Asked whether Carly Rousso was inhaling a chemical-laced spray before the crash, Deputy Police Chief David Schwarz in an interview with the Tribune said, “We are looking at intoxicants that could include what you just mentioned.”
In the meantime, Rousso, of Highland Park, has been cited with a misdemeanor and is not in custody as the probe continues.
On Monday afternoon, Modesta Sacramento, 25, also of Highland Park, was walking along a downtown sidewalk in the 700 block of Central Avenue with her three children as Rousso approached, driving a Lexus coupe registered to her father, David Rousso.
The vehicle jumped the curb and struck the four family members, according to police.
Sacramento and her 2- and 4-year-old sons were injured, and her daughter, Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, died later that day at Evanston Hospital.
The two boys were released from Highland Park Hospital earlier this week; their mother was discharged this afternoon, a hospital spokesperson said.
According to police, authorities issued the minor citation to Rousso on Monday, but it was not filed with the Lake County Circuit Court Clerk until Wednesday. After consultation with the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office, police said, Rousso was released on Monday without restrictions and without having to post money as bond.
By Wednesday, perceived delays in the investigation had sparked an outcry in the community, particularly among Hispanics, and prompted Mayor Nancy Rotering to release a letter to residents that criticized prosecutors for what she said was unnecessary delays in the case.
Within hours of Rotering’s Wednesday evening criticism, the Highland Park city manager announced that Rousso had been issued a citation for driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound or compounds.
Those substances are defined in state law as any of a long list of chemicals — including solvents found in paint thinners, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, and cleaning products.
Police said additional charges could follow once the state crime lab completes toxicology tests, adding that the delayed announcement of charges was due to a procedure typical of similar cases.
They said police issued the initial ticket Monday in order to collect blood and urine samples. The state’s attorney prefers to approve all charges at once, and because pending toxicology tests left the potential for more severe charges, no citations were announced, Schwarz said.
“There’s a risk of double jeopardy if charges aren’t approved simultaneously,” Schwarz said.
In other words, if a judge accepts a guilty plea to a lesser charge, no additional charges can be filed in that case, Highland Park Deputy Police Chief George Pfutzenreuter said.
After further discussion among police and prosecutors, authorities decided to file the misdemeanor charge with the circuit court clerk on Wednesday and continue to wait for the toxicology test results.
On Thursday, about 1,200 people, including Rotering and other Highland Park City Council members, attended a memorial walk and rally in Highland Park and neighboring Highwood to remember Jaclyn.
Despite the recently-announced DUI charge, some who attended the rally said people in the Hispanic community still felt a conspiracy was afoot to protect Rousso.
The teen is the daughter of David and Gabrielle Rousso; her father serves on the board of The Art Center-Highland Park, and her mother is its executive director.
“Lake County has a history of not treating people of color correctly,” said Alfredo Miranda, 46, of Waukegan, as he walked with the throng down Green Bay Road. “Justice is supposed to be blind. It’s very tough being Hispanic in this community, because you have to carry your last name.”
Others felt the case is more about class than race.
“The color that matters in this town is money,” said Lisa Gibson, 63, of Highland Park.
Schwarz and Pfutzenreuter, the deputy police chiefs, said later at the rally that Rousso did not get special treatment.
“Nothing’s trying to be hidden,” Pfutzenreuter said.
“I don’t know the driver or her family,” Schwarz added. “I want to dispel that emphatically.”
Schwarz said police hope to know whether additional charges can be filed before Rousso’s first court appearance, scheduled for Sept. 21. Police are working to expedite the toxicology tests, which sometimes take months to return, he said.
Freelance reporter Ruth Fuller contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun