Downers Grove North student Beth Dunlap taken off life support; charges upgraded against driver

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (WLS) -- A Naperville man is facing drunk driving charges after allegedly running a red light and critically injuring a student Tuesday morning in front of Downers Grove North High School.

Joseph Kucharski, 51.



Joseph Kucharski, 51, was charged with one count of felony aggravated DUI and felony reckless driving in a crash that injured student Beth Dunlap, according to the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office. Those charges were upgraded to one count of aggravated DUI - Death and one count of reckless homicide on Monday. He faces three to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Police say Dunlap, 17, is in critical care at Good Samaritan Hospital. The high school's principal told students Friday that Dunlap "will not recover from her injuries and that her family is making final arrangements."

Police said Dunlap was legally crossing in a marked crosswalk just steps from her high school when she was struck. Ella Sandt, a childhood friend, said Dunlap was taken off life support Thursday night.

Dunlap was a "fierce competitor and a strong person," Principal Janice Schwarze told the student body.

"As hard as this loss is for all of us, I believe that she would want us to be strong and take care of each other," she said.

Dunlap is a junior at the high school and a well-known volleyball player throughout the region. Dunlap plays volleyball at the high school and with the 1st Alliance Volleyball Club, said Sue Keck, the club's director.

Her club team just returned from a three-day tournament in St. Louis last weekend.

"Beth will always be a part of this team," said Kate McGuire, Dunlap's club coach. "We will hear her voice when we celebrate our wins and we will see her smile when we make big defensive plays. Her courage and fight over the last week is a true representation of the Beth's competitiveness. "

More than 100 of Dunlap's friends, classmates and teammates gathered at Lyons Township High School South Friday evening to honor her.

"She just brightened every room she walked in and it's going to be very hard going to the gym without her," Sandt said. "I don't think I've ever seen her truly sad or mad or anything. She was so positive; she cared about everyone."

Some of those at the memorial wore shirts that read "Beth Strong" with her team number 18.

"It's every parent's worst nightmare. I know that it's a cliche but it truly is," said Tom Sandt, family friend.

Keck said Dunlap's teammates have decided to play in a tournament this weekend, and they will do it in Beth's honor. Dunlap's coach and former coaches have noted her competitive spirit.

"Beth was sassy, fun, spunky, feisty, and a fierce competitor. She hated to lose," said Julie Heatherly, Dunlap's former coach. "Beth was a setter that led her team with phenomenal defense, a tough serve and sweet, soft setter hands."

Prosecutors say Dunlap was crossing Main Street Tuesday morning within the marked crosswalk, and obeying the "Walk" sign at the time, when she was struck by the driver headed southbound.

Kucharski allegedly crossed into the oncoming lanes and entered the intersection at Grant Street on a red light, prosecutors say.

While the case moves forward in the court system, Dunlap's family, teammates, coaches and classmates will continue to honor her. Dunlap wore #18, so the principal suggested students donate $18 to a charity, or perform 18 random acts of kindness. "Do what feels right," the principal told the students.

"You will be greatly missed but never forgotten," said Coach McGuire. "Your team will always have your back.
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