Rocio Garza “freaked out” and drove away after briefly stopping to see the man he struck on an early December morning in 2010 on Aurora's far east side.
The man, 30-year-old Robert Vincze of Michigan, suffered fatal neck and blunt force trauma injuries after being hit by Garza, who was arrested two days later.
On Tuesday, 23-year-old Garza, an Elmhurst resident, pleaded guilty to aggravated leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. As part of the deal with prosecutors, Garza's sentence will be capped at no more than seven years in prison, as opposed to the 14-year maximum state law allows for on Class 1 felony convictions. He is also eligible for probation.
Garza, sporting a mohawk haircut, spoke only to offer brief answers to questions from Judge George Bakalis during the hearing attended by Vincze’s relatives. Garza remains held in DuPage County Jail and is scheduled to return to court March 26 for attorneys to discuss his pre-sentence report.
Prosecutors told Bakalis that Garza was driving near Eola and Butterfield roads around 4:30 a.m. when he hit Vincze from behind. Vincze was walking with a friend when it happened. Garza pulled over, walked over to Vincze and spoke to the friend before saying he was going to move his car.
Instead, Garza drove off without providing any information, prosecutors said. He was arrested after tips to Chicago police led Aurora police to Elmhurst and Garza. During a police interview, Garza told investigators he “panicked, freaked out,” Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Lindt said.
“At no point ever … did he file a police report,” Lindt added.
Garza’s attorney acknowledged after the hearing that Garza was rattled by hitting Vincze, but said the fact he initially stopped—and that others were tending to Vincze—are factors they hoped will be considered should a full sentencing hearing take place. Attorney Mike Botti said talks continue with prosecutors on a prison sentence.
“We may have an agreement before that point,” Botti said.
Garza’s attorneys, citing reports, said Vincze and the friend were pulling a sled carrying a gas can along the road’s fog line back to their disabled car. Garza, driving home from work, looked down briefly to adjust the radio when the collision occurred.
“It’s a tragic accident,” Botti added.
Vincze’s relatives did not wish to comment outside the courtroom.