Criminal Justice

Parents on Trial for 'Quiet Gathering'

Officials describe a bacchanalian scene: a basement that smelled of alcohol and was littered with beer cans as teens played beer pong on the family ping-pong table. But Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell say they were shocked to find out, after teens who had been at the party in their suburban Chicago home last year were involved in a fatal accident at the foot of their driveway, that some of the several dozen underage guests had been drinking.

In fact, the event in their home celebrating the Deerfield High School homecoming football game was so low-key that it shouldn’t even be called a party, Jeffrey Hutsell’s defense lawyer told a jury yesterday during opening statements in the Deerfield couple’s trial for violating liquor laws, endangering the health of a child and obstruction of justice, reports the Chicago Tribune. “Quiet gathering” would be a better description, said attorney Robert Gevirtz. “Some might even say it was boring.”

Jeffrey Hutsell went down to the party in the basement several times and never saw any alcohol, and he and his wife certainly never supplied any booze to their son’s teen guests, according to the defense. The two were involved, caring parents who were active in their community, their lawyers contend, and members of the confirmation class Sara Hutsell taught at a local church were among the party guests.

However, guest Manuel Abreu, 19, testified that he and others were drinking at the party (he didn’t know who supplied the booze), before he left with four other teens, the Tribune reports. Half an hour later, at about 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 2006, 18-year-old Daniel Bell drove his Volkswagen Jetta into a tree in a cul-de-sac in front of the Hutsell home and died, along with one of his four passengers. Abreu was among the three survivors. Bell’s blood alcohol level was 0.132, well over the legal limit for adults.

The trial, which is being held in Lake County Circuit Court in Waukegan, is unusual. While adults who directly supply alcohol to teens are routinely prosecuted, parents rarely are put on trial “because most of the time when you have these types of parties, the parents aren’t home,” says Lake County State’s Atty. Michael Waller.

The prosecution contends the Hutsells committed crimes by not supervising the party more strictly, and by trying to conceal evidence of drinking from accident investigators. “They didn’t lift a finger to supervise or control access to their home that night,” argued prosecutor Christen Bishop. “They lied to the police while two boys lay dying at the foot of their driveway.” If convicted, the Hutsells could face up to a year in jail.

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