ST. CHARLES, Ill. (STMW) — On Thursday afternoon, Benjamin Black sat on the witness stand in a Kane County courtroom and looked into the devastated eyes of the Ranken family.
The 29-year-old Sycamore man, who faces between three and 14 years in prison, has already pleaded guilty to being under the influence of heroin when he slammed his car into the back of a vehicle on Feb. 27, 2013, killing 11-year-old Matthew Ranken. During his sentencing hearing on Thursday, Black again took responsibility for his actions.
“Words cannot express how much remorse I feel for my actions that lead to this accident,” Black, wearing orange prison clothes, told the crowd of approximately 20 people who showed up to watch him be sentenced. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Matthew … I hope when all is said and done, this establishes some closure for the family.”
Closure will have to wait. After hearing the testimony of first responders, arguments from both prosecutors and Black’s attorney, the victim impact statement of Matthew’s mother, Tonda Ranken, and the statement Black gave himself, Judge James Hallock said he would wait until Wednesday to hand down Black’s sentence.
He said ruling on Thursday would not give “either side the due diligence this matter deserves.”
So, the Ranken family will wait another week before they find out how much time Black will serve for causing the crash that killed Matthew.
According to police testimony, Matthew had been riding in the back seat of a 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by his brother, Nicholas Weber, when they happened upon an accident on Route 64, west of Peplow Road in unincorporated Virgil Township, just before 7:30 p.m.
The vehicle was the last car in a row of approximately 15 cars that had stopped, waiting for emergency crews to clear the scene of the crash.
That’s when police said Black, driving approximately 55 mph, failed to slow down for the stopped vehicle, and drove into the back of Weber’s car, causing a chain reaction crash.
Sgt. John Grimes of the Kane County Sheriff’s Department responded to the crash. When he recalled what he saw that evening, Grimes’ eyes welled-up with tears on the witness stand.
“I busted out the back window (of Weber’s vehicle), climbed in, and couldn’t tell if (Matthew) had a pulse or not,” Grimes said.
On the scene, Black told officers that he had tried to slow down when he saw the emergency vehicles and the line of stopped cars, but that he slid on a patch of ice, causing his vehicle to rear-end Weber’s car. Police said there was no indication that he had tried to stop, or that there was ice on the road.
Black submitted urine and blood samples following the crash, and experts testified that heroin metabolites and Xanax were present in his blood at the time of the crash.
“Anyone who was not impaired and who was paying attention would have been able to see that accident,” Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Cullen said. “Everybody else was able to stop.”
Black has admitted to using heroin 24 hours before the crash occurred. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated drunken driving.
Tonda Ranken testified about her son Matthew’s huge smile and bright blue eyes. She spoke of their mornings drinking coffee together and evenings spent watching cartoons.
She smiled briefly, remembering fond memories of her youngest child, then began to cry as her new reality set in.
The Ranken family had once been complete, “until the night our lives came to an abrupt stop,” she said. “That will forever be the day our lives stopped being whole.”
Black, who admits to using drugs since he was 16 years old, has sought relief several times from his addiction, his attorney D.J. Tegeler told Judge Hallock.
“He made a fatal error to start using again,” Tegeler said.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)