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Driver pleads guilty to DUI, reckless homicide in crash that killed Downers Grove student

Joseph Kucharski initially pleaded not guilty in March.

Elizabeth Dunlap
Elizabeth Dunlap
Provided by Margaret Mahlke

A Naperville man has pleaded guilty to a count of aggravated DUI and reckless homicide in a mid-day crash that killed a 17-year-old high school student just steps from Downers Grove North High School.

Joseph Kucharski, 52, entered a blind guilty plea Thursday before Judge Liam Brennan, according to the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office.

Kucharski initially pleaded not guilty in March.

Prosecutors said he was allegedly driving while intoxicated Feb. 19, 2019 when he crashed into 17-year-old Elizabeth Dunlap, authorities said.

Joseph Kucharski
Joseph Kucharski
DuPage County state’s attorney’s office

Dunlap, who was a student at Downers Grove North High School, was crossing Main Street at 10:55 a.m. in the crosswalk at Grant Street near the school when Kucharski’s vehicle barreled south through a red light and fatally hit her, prosecutors said.

“This morning, Mr. Kucharski appeared before the Court where he took responsibility for the death of Beth Dunlap,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement. “While today’s plea does nothing to ease the pain Beth’s family, friends and the entire community have endured since Feb. 19 and will most likely feel their entire lives, it is the first step in holding Mr. Kucharski responsible for his incredibly reckless and irresponsible actions.”

Investigators determined that Kucharski’s blood alcohol content was 0.031 at the time of the crash, and he “exhibited signs of impairment when interviewed by police,” prosecutors said. Police also found two crack pipes, crack cocaine and other drugs in a hotel room where Kucharski had been staying.

He stayed at the scene and spoke to police following the crash and was arrested after a $5 million arrest warrant was issued, according to the state’s attorney’s office. Kucharski posted bond in May and was released from custody.

He faces a maximum of 14 years in prison, and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, prosecutors said.