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Hazel Crest woman to get her car back — after five-year battle

Symone Smith and her mother, Antoinette Smith, at the Daley Center shortly after a Cook County judge signed paperwork Thursday allowing for the release of Symone's car five years after it was impounded.

Symone Smith and her mother, Antoinette Smith, at the Daley Center shortly after a Cook County judge signed paperwork Thursday allowing for the release of Symone's car five years after it was impounded. | Stefano Esposito / Sun-Times

Symone Smith’s five-year battle to get her car back ended Thursday with a five-minute hearing at the Daley Center.

Just what Smith’s 2010 Nissan Sentra looks like now — and whether it can even be driven — is anyone’s guess after sitting in a city impound lot since 2012.

Smith allowed herself a faint smile after Cook County Judge Paul A. Karkula signed paperwork permitting the car’s release.

“Eventually I knew it was going to come,” said Smith, 26, a registered nurse who lives in Hazel Crest. “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong in this situation, and the universe always returns back to you what you put out. It was just a matter of waiting.”

Smith was a nursing student in April 2012 — just two months after she got the car, her first — when she let a friend take it to the store. Brian Hewlett was supposed to come right back. But the police pulled over Hewlett and found a bag of suspected crack cocaine, according to the vehicle-seizure report.

The car was towed to the city impound lot at 103rd and Doty Avenue. Smith expected to have to pay a small fine to retrieve her car. But she later learned the state’s attorney’s office has put a hold on the vehicle. The prosecutor’s office typically goes after assets that can be linked to the drug trade.

Hewlett was charged with possession of cocaine for the 2012 incident. Things got more complicated when Hewlett was arrested a year later and charged with murder, accused of gunning down a 17-year-old boy outside a high school basketball game at Chicago State University.

Smith has steadfastly insisted she didn’t know anything about Hewlett’s alleged drug possession when she let him use her car, and she’s never been charged in connection with that crime. Hewlett is awaiting trial in both cases.

Prosecutors and Smith’s lawyer, Zachary Limbaugh, disagree about why it took so long for Smith’s case to be wrapped up. Limbaugh said the case changed substantially earlier this month when Smith was finally able to pay off the loan on the $19,000 vehicle. With the lender no longer a party to the case, Smith and the state’s attorney’s office were able to reach agreement, Limbaugh said.

Smith testified Thursday that she knew nothing of Hewlett’s alleged involvement with drugs. She also had to prove to the judge that she owns the car.

Smith’s victory has come at a steep price. Smith and her mother, Antoinette Smith, have paid about $7,500 in legal bills, plus the monthly $276.25 car payment as well as insurance on a car Smith couldn’t drive.

“I’m very, very happy that this nightmare is over,” Antoinette Smith said.

With rain pelting the windows of the Daley Center, mother and daughter had no plans to pick up the car until early next week.