BLOOMINGTON — An East Peoria woman was sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday for aggravated driving under the influence related to a single-vehicle crash that killed her husband.
Juanita Webster, 38, sobbed loudly after Judge William Yoder imposed the sentence.
Webster was behind the wheel on June 16, 2017, when she lost control of the vehicle in which Andre Webster was a passenger. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash on Interstate 55 north of Bloomington.
In his decision to impose a prison sentence, Yoder cited Webster's criminal history that included convictions for drunken driving in 2012 and domestic battery of her husband in 2016.
Yoder said he found no extraordinary circumstances involved in the crash that would allow him to consider probation over prison as required by state law.
Defense lawyer Matthew Koetters argued that the testimony from Webster's relatives, including her three children, illustrated the hardship they have suffered since their mother's incarceration. The defendant's two sons, ages 18 and 13, and daughter, now 12, said they needed their mother at home.
The children, who exchanged emotional goodbyes with their mother after the hearing, are living with a disabled grandfather and a family friend near Chicago.
In her statement to the judge, Webster's words were nearly drowned out by her sobs.
"I'm suffering every day. I lost my husband I'm still in love with. ... I don't have anyone to take care of my kids, judge," said Webster.
Webster's claim that her husband was hitting her as she was driving contradicts her statement to police shortly after the crash in which she said she had asked her husband to light her cigarette, a maneuver that contributed to the crash.
A video of Webster's interview with police while she was hospitalized was played in court during the testimony of Illinois State Police investigator Rodney Slayback. Webster told the officer her husband "was lighting me a cigarette" when she lost control of the van.
Assistant State's Attorney David Fitt asked for a sentence of eight years, the maximum term the state agreed to in its plea deal with Webster. Without a plea agreement, Webster was eligible for 14 years.
The crash was "a completely unnecessary incident," said Fitt, adding that people are aware of the consequences of abusing alcohol and driving.
"Illinois has spent millions of dollars warning people about the dangers of driving under the influence," said the prosecutor.
Koetters sought probation for Webster. The charge is Webster's first felony offense, said Koetters, and a community-based sentence would allow her to care for her children.
If the judge declined to accept the defense argument that the loss of a mother and a father figure is an extraordinary circumstance, then a three-year sentence was appropriate, Koetters argued.
Webster was given credit for 201 days in custody. She must serve 85 percent of the sentence.