CHARLESTON -- After hearing a promise to educate others about distracted driving, a judge Friday ordered two years of probation for a young woman who was the driver of a car that hit and killed a boy two years ago.
But Circuit Judge Matt Sullivan also ordered a month of detention for Makayla M. McCulloch because, he said, no time in custody wouldn't reflect the seriousness of what happened.
"We are talking about the death of a child," Sullivan said.
The sentence followed McCulloch's statement to the family of the boy, Joshua Schneider, when she said she "couldn't imagine losing something so precious." She vowed to tell others about the dangers of distracted driving, which led to the accident.
"From the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry," McCulloch said. "My heart still breaks every day for your family. True justice for Joshua is speaking out about my mistake. I can't make things right but I can do the right thing."
McCulloch is now 20 years old but was charged as a juvenile because she was 17 at the time of the April 23, 2015, accident in Mattoon. Such a case continues in juvenile court after the defendant is no longer a minor.
Last month, she admitted to the allegations in a petition, the juvenile court equivalent to a guilty plea, that charged her with aggravated unlawful use of a communication device.
McCulloch admitted that she was texting on her phone when her car hit Joshua while the 7-year-old boy was crossing the 600 block of South 14th Street. The boy died later at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana.
Also last month, a charge accusing McCulloch of having marijuana in her system was dismissed. The charge is possible when tests show any amount of the drug in a person's system, though testimony at Friday's hearing indicated there was no evidence of McCulloch's being impaired at the time of the incident.
On Friday, Sullivan noted the maximum sentence possible for McCulloch would be to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the juvenile equivalent to prison, until she's 21 years old.
However, the judge also said, it would be up to the department to determine when McCulloch would be released, so the sentence could be shorter. An order for community service couldn't be part of that sentence so "that would be it," he said.
As a term of her probation, Sullivan ordered 200 hours of community service, which he said would help guarantee McCulloch would keep her promise of speaking out against distracted driving. The longest probation sentence possible would have been until she's 25 years old.
McCulloch was tearful during several moments of Friday's hearing -- she wasn't alone -- but broke down completely when Sullivan ordered the 30 days in a juvenile detention facility.
Sullivan told McCulloch to report to the Coles County jail on Oct. 5, when personnel from a juvenile detention facility are scheduled to be in the county.
The judge agreed to delay the time until McCulloch had to report for the detention but denied her attorney's request for it be after she delivers the child she's expecting in December.
In a bit of an unusual move before deciding on the sentence, Sullivan turned to Stephanie Schneider, Joshua's stepmother who was in the courtroom, and asked her if "there's something you want to suggest."
In response, Schneider she "hopes for the best" for McCulloch but asked Sullivan not to consider that she's pregnant.
"She gets to have that baby for the rest of her life and we don't," Schneider said, adding that the family would accept whatever sentence Sullivan imposed.
Schneider also made a separate statement to Sullivan, in which she said she can still remember "the look on Joshua's face" just before the car hit him. McCulloch "won't have those memories" because she was looking at her phone and not at the road, she said.
Coles County State's Attorney Brian Bower didn't make a specific recommendation on a sentence but said probation should include a "significant amount" of community service.
Assistant Public Defender Matt Ham asked for a probation sentence, also saying it should include community service.
Sullivan agreed with Ham and also ordered McCulloch to continue with counseling. That was something McCulloch said started immediately after the accident and in which she's still engaged.
The witnesses Ham called Friday included Lt. Detective Sam Gaines of the Mattoon Police Department, who testified about the investigation of the accident.
Gaines said Stephanie Schneider had parked her car to let Joshua out to go to the home of a relative's.
Scheidner stayed in her car but looked for oncoming traffic after Joshua exited, Gaines said. She saw an approaching car and told the boy "no" but said he might have thought she said "go," the officer said.
During her testimony, McCulloch said she was using her phone when "a boy jumped out in the street." She said she immediately stopped, ran to the boy and waited for police, then cooperated with their questioning.
"I've never felt so in despair, so many emotions but mostly remorse," she said. After that, she continued, "it seems as if everything had a way to remind me" of the accident.
McCulloch also said she now has a job to support herself and has plans to attend college. She said she no longer uses marijuana.
MCulloch lived in Mattoon at the time of the accident but there are no public records that show her current address.
She made several juvenile court appearances after the accident. The case was delayed for various reasons, including changes in both prosecuting and defense attorneys in the case.