In front of an unsympathetic judge and under the glaring eyes of the property owner, some 33 teens and young adults pleaded guilty last week to taking part in an underage drinking party hosted by an Oak Park teenager accused of breaking into an empty apartment on Elgin Avenue.
The defendants were each sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a $200 fine after being swept up in a massive bust that netted 35 arrests. Retired judge Terry Gulbrandsen, who presides over cases involving local ordinance violations, showed little sympathy for the young faces that appeared before him at village hall, and repeatedly gestured toward the couple whose apartment was vandalized as a result of the soiree.
“If you don’t like it, I’m not changing it,” Gulbrandsen said of the sentencing terms. “It’s not negotiable.”
The site of the July 29 bust was an apartment building in the 1000 block of Elgin Avenue where 17-year-old Jimmie Moorehead is alleged to have broken into his girlfriend’s home while the family was away on vacation. Moorehead is one of two suspects in the incident facing criminal charges. According a circuit court employee, Moorehead pleaded guilty to a criminal trespassing charge and was sentenced to pay $500 in restitution in addition to community service and 18 months of court supervision.
Brennan Page, 24, was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and providing minors with alcohol. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 9.
None of the charges dealt with at the Sept. 5 adjudication hearing were criminal offenses and a conviction will not appear on the individual’s permanent record. Several suspects did not appear for the Sept. 5 hearing, but will be offered the same sentencing conditions on Oct. 3, Village Prosecutor Sharon O’Shea said.
Several of those who pleaded guilty last week were accompanied by their parents, including a Hanover Park resident who was 16 at the time of her arrest. Blanca Izaguirre, the minor’s mother, said her daughter is an honor roll student and “a great daughter” who made a mistake in attending the party. Izaguirre said she believes her daughter was not drinking at the party and was upset that police cited her with unlawful possession of alcohol after denying the girl’s request to take a breathalyzer.
Debbie Maldonado joined her three daughters at the hearing and supported their claims that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All three women, Vanessa, 17, Diane, 18, and Kayla Ann, 20, said they too were denied the opportunity to take a breathalyzer test and insisted that police cast too broad a net in meting out charges.
They also said they were stunned to see police relinquish car keys they had confiscated earlier in the night, allowing party-goers to drive home.
Police Chief James Ryan said in an e-mail that the use of a breathalyzer is restricted to cases in which a suspect was driving under the influence of alcohol. As for the claim that suspects were allowed to drive themselves home, Ryan said he had no knowledge of the accusation.
“I will have to conduct an inquiry,” Ryan stated in his response.
O’Shea, the village prosecutor, said she did not hear from any parents whose children were arrested at the party. In a similar case that occurred several months ago, O’Shea said she did meet with several of the families involved and heard complaints that police allowed party-goers to drive themselves home.
O’Shea said it is human nature for parents to defend their children, but she is interested in getting feedback from parents and village officials on how to curb underage drinking.
“I do want to sit down with administrators to see if we can segregate [these cases] from our regular call, because I would like to hear the feedback,” O’Shea said.
Vanessa Maldonado explained they had no idea the apartment where the party was held may have been broken into and said they simply acted on a text message inviting them to attend a friend’s 20th birthday party.
“We didn’t know it was breaking and entering,” Vanessa Maldonado said.
Debbie Maldonado said all three of her daughters are normally well behaved and are busy with school and work schedules. She’s hopeful that they will learn from the experience.
“I’m not going to punish them, they’re good kids,” Debbie Maldonado said. “Now, if they end up here again ….”
Ashley Sternberg was one of only two people arrested who was of legal drinking age. Sternberg, 21, said she wasn’t drinking that night because she was the designated driver and she denied any unruly behavior that might have warranted her disorderly conduct charge.
“You should know better,” Gulbrandsen said from the bench. “You’re not a minor.”