BLOOMINGTON — A Bloomington mother convicted of child endangerment for allowing her daughter to drive without a license was ordered to serve one day in jail and pay $1 million in restitution to the family of a 15-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair since the girl ran over him in September.
Stephanie Uzueta, 39, and her daughter Emily Uzueta, now 16, were in court on charges relating to an accident that critically injured Brandon Major, of Bloomington.
The mother was sentenced to two days in jail but with day for day credit, she will serve a single day for endangering the life of a child. She also was ordered to pay $1 million to Major’s family to help cover medical and other expenses they have incurred since the accident.
Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Brannan said while the restitution is one of the largest he has ever seen for a misdemeanor offense, he believed the amount was justified.
The mother “chose to gamble by allowing her daughter to drive with no formal training. When she chose to do that, she put people at risk. Essentially, the worst did happen,” said Brannan.
Emily Uzueta was sentenced to 24 months conditional discharge for operating a vehicle without a drivers license. She received a similar sentence in juvenile court for aggravated reckless driving.
The mother pleaded guilty to the endangerment charge and a traffic offense for allowing an authorized person to drive. She was fined on the traffic charge.
Brandon Major told Associate Judge Casey Costigan that his future has changed dramatically since the young driver struck him with her mother’s minivan at O’Neill Park.
“All my goals are down the drain now. I can’t take care of myself. I don’t even have the promise of a normal day anymore. It just sucks for me,” said Major, who breathes with the help of a ventilator.
Major also gave a different version of the accident than the girl provided to police. Major denied that he and another boy were riding on the hood of the van when the mishap occurred.
Major’s mother, Elizabeth Schneider said doctors did not know if Brandon would survive the accident. After the severity of his spinal cord injuries were diagnosed, the family was told, “if he did live, he’d live the life of Christopher Reeves,” said Schneider, referring to the late actor who also suffered a spinal cord injury.
In sentencing the mother and daughter, Costigan recognized that no court action could reverse the tragedy.
“There’s no order I will enter that will restore what was lost,” he said.
While some family members were disappointed with one day in jail for the mother, Schneider said she prefers Uzueta be free to work and make payments on the restitution.
Alan Novick, attorney for the Uzuetas commented after the hearing that “this is the biggest tragedy I can ever recall.”
By Edith Brady-Lunny