CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court judge sentenced a woman Friday to a maximum sentence of one year in jail for causing a crash that killed a father of four and severely injured the man's passenger and the defendant.
Megan A. Zyla, 25, of Cedar Lake, pleaded guilty in May to reckless driving, a class A misdemeanor, in connection with a head-on crash May 21, 2019, on U.S. 41, just south of St. John.
Nick DeVries, 32, of Lowell, was killed and his co-worker Jordan Muscari was severely injured in the crash. Zyla also suffered severe injuries.
Defense attorney Thomas Mullins said there was no "admissible evidence" in the case to suggest Zyla used alcohol or drugs in the hours leading up to the crash.
Judge Samuel Cappas questioned why charging documents alleged Zyla tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Mullins said he didn't dispute Zyla tested positive for the substances, but the levels were so low there was no indication she was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Bernard Johnsen said he agreed.
In response to the judge's question, a probation officer said a prescription drug Zyla was taking could cause her to test positive for benzodiazepines.
"OK, so you got lucky there," Cappas told Zyla.
Mullins said it was true that Zyla suffered seizures during her withdrawal from drugs, but she entered treatment and has continued to battle the dependency.
Zyla admitted she was driving too fast given the rainy conditions the morning of the crash, the defense attorney said.
'You destroyed my world'
Cappas said he believed Zyla was remorseful for taking DeVries' life, but he wasn't so sure her tears were for those suffering as a result of his death.
"For some reason, today I really don't have an ounce of compassion for you," Cappas said.
Photos showed the wreckage from the crash was terrible, and the injuries DeVries suffered were sickening, he said.
Muscari recalled a silence between him and DeVries as they watched Zyla's truck swerve into their lane.
It was the longest two seconds of his life, and the last two seconds of DeVries' life, he said.
When he awoke, an engine was caught on his chest and he had to recline his seat to crawl from the wreckage, he said.
"To this day, I don't know why I'm alive," Muscari said. "All I can think is it's because of him, because of Nick."
DeVries' wife, Keri DeVries, said she waited a long time to find her soul mate and got to spend only eight years with him.
Nick DeVries was a great stepfather to her two older children and could not wait to be a father to the two children they had together, who were 3 years old and 8 months old when he was killed.
"You destroyed my world, my family and my life," she said. "I sure hope whatever you did that night was worth it."
It was painful to watch her son look out a window and ask when his dad was coming home, she said.
"My kids will never know who their daddy was," she said. "You took a lifetime of happy memories."
Robert Ballas, a lifelong friend of Nick DeVries, said he grew up admiring DeVries' mother's smile but he hasn't seen it for a long time.
"I hope you never experience the pain and loss I've seen on that woman's face," he said.
DeVries' father, Tim DeVries, said his wife is not the same person.
"There's hardly a day she doesn't cry," he said.
Tim DeVries accused Zyla of making Facebook posts that show she likely will "go right back" to living life as she did before the crash.
He said he hoped she doesn't cause another crash.
"If you do, I hope the one you kill is yourself," he said.
Family defends driver's character
Zyla's younger sister, Nicole Zyla, said Megan Zyla spent more than a week in intensive care after the crash.
When she first learned Nick DeVries had been killed and Muscari injured, she broke down, Nicole Zyla said.
"All I remember is her constantly crying, saying she wished it was her (who died)," she said. "She will have to live with this for the rest of her life."
Regardless of social media posts, Megan Zyla suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Nicole Zyla said.
"I don't want people thinking my sister is living her best life, because it's the complete opposite," she said.
To wish another crash on her or even death was "completely out of line," she said.
Megan Zyla apologized for taking Nick DeVries' life.
"I will never understand why I lived and he did not," she said.
No words could ever explain how sorry she is, she said.
"This was the hardest part of my life, but not like losing someone you love," she said.
Johnsen said visibility the morning of the crash was "down to zero" because of the heavy rain, and Megan Zyla was not "smart enough" to slow down.
"She deserves to sit in a cell," he said. "Mr. DeVries is dead forever."
Mullins said Zyla worked overnight shifts, so it wasn't unusual for her to be out in the early morning. The crash occurred as she was on her way home from Walmart, he said.
He asked Cappas to order Zyla to serve her time in the Lake County Community Corrections program or suspend her sentence in favor of probation, to give her "an opportunity to prove how truly sorry and remorseful she is and how seriously she takes this."
Cappas refused to consider those options and told Zyla she got a break when she accepted the state's plea agreement. She could have faced a longer prison sentence if convicted of felony reckless homicide, he said.
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