This is the second in a three-part series by drunk driving victim Erin Rollins:
And here I sat, on those same hard, wooden benches in the Criminal Court Division Building of Cook County, that I had sat on several times before, and once again I faced the offender whom I had laid next to that initial night in the ER.
My opinion of the defendant wasn’t solely based on how she acted in court, but also on how she behaved when I wasn't present. In fact, the state trooper, who I recently talked to for the first time, told me that she was more arrogant and narcissistic than any other young lady he had interacted with in his career, and as a result he took a special interest in my case. He also noted that each time he saw her in court, he, the state’s attorney and the victim’s advocate would marvel at her lack of remorse.
This brings me to the moment of truth.
There I sat, with the 14 other people who had accompanied me on this day, including the Victim’s Advocate who had worked with me on my case since the beginning of the court process, all eagerly awaiting the defendant’s decision.
Would she finally take responsibility and plead guilty, or choose to go to trial, which would be many more months of court dates, waiting, and just plain agony?
I still had flashbacks, not of the actual crash, but of what my mind invented it would be like, despite having no actual memory of the incident. I have memory of moments before, and about 20-30 minutes afterwards. But, in trying to understand what happened, my brain fills in the blanks. I often imagine the point of impact, me seeing her car right before she crashed into mine, headlights blaring in my eyes, and words I know I probably said: "Oh my God......."
I often feel the same emotions I felt in the moment, even though I can't physically remember it. And that feeling is of complete and utter helplessness; there is nothing I can do to change what is about to happen. That emotion alone has haunted me for two years. Although I know God allowed what happened to occur for a reason, it doesn't change the trauma. My brain doesn't know the difference, even if my mind does. Because my body remembers what my brain won't allow me to.
These are the things I relive every time I step into the courtroom. Facing the defendant was like facing my attempted murderer. And worse, she had showed no humanity up until this point. She gave off the impression that she did not care. I wanted her to care about, and feel remorse for, what she had done, even more than I wanted her to go to jail. Because if she didn’t, I knew what had happened to me could easily happen to someone else.
When our case was called, the 4'10, black-haired, now 24-year-old woman walked swiftly with her lawyer to the stand. The judge presented the charges against her: Class 4 felony for aggravated DUI causing great bodily harm. He asked her how she wanted to plea. She conceded.
The sound of that word rang through the courtroom. I could barely hold my emotions. My sister, Nikki, squeezed my arm.
The judge then called my sister to the stand to read her victim impact statement. We sat there and listened, as Nikki recounted the fear that at any moment her sister, “best friend and soul mate” could die.
And, she discussed her, and her husband’s losses too. How she had shut down her practice as a psychologist for weeks to be with me at the hospital as much as possible, losing thousands of dollars of income.
Then it was my turn. I wiped my tears as I hobbled to the stand, trying to prevent myself from weeping.
I started to read. The defendant and her lawyer sat at a table inside of the courtroom, while our friends and families sat in benches that looked like pews just outside of the glass.
My victim impact statement was as real and honest as I could make it. I didn't hold anything back. To withhold even the most gruesome and personal details would deprive the offender of knowing exactly how her decision had impacted another person.
I even recounted how she had asked for permission to go to Las Vegas only a year prior. The judge granted her request, and she had posted several photos of her bare belly on Instagram with the caption, "Loving life."
I continued reading, "and while you are baring your perfectly intact belly, I am carrying around a scar and a poop bag on mine. You wrote, ‘loving life.’ At least if you are too ashamed to admit wrongdoing, you could have the human decency to not rub in the fact that you are loving life while I’m sitting here begging God to pee.”
I then detailed how a potential love interest before the crash told me he was no longer attracted to me afterwards. And I wondered if any man would love me despite my newfound disabilities.
I said, "And as happy as I am to have met, and will be marrying, the man of my dreams, I am equally sad. Equally sad that my wedding day will not be quite as I imagined it. I am sad that I can't do many of the things with Dennis that we both love to do.”
I could hear a murmur of weeping throughout my statement. Then Dennis lost it. I saw my future-mother-in-law now sitting next to him cradling his head while he wailed.
The defendant's lawyer wiped away his tears. I was equally surprised by the defendant’s reaction, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
Erin's story is also featured in Chicago Now.