RENSSELAER | On the eve of his 22nd birthday, Dean Tillema III was taken into custody after pleading guilty to two Class C felony counts of causing death while driving with a controlled substance in an accident that killed two teens.
Following the plea Friday in Jasper Circuit Court, Tillema was taken to the Jasper County Correctional Facility's work release program, where he will be held until his 1 p.m. Dec. 29 sentencing.
As part of the plea agreement reached by Jasper County Prosecutor Kathryn O'Neall and defense attorney Bryan Truitt, Tillema would receive up to six years for each count to be served consecutively.
Each six-year term also includes one and a half years probation, and Tillema also will receive credit for time spent under house arrest.
Depending on a number of factors, including how much time the court allows for time spent under house arrest, Tillema likely will serve no more than 4 1/2 years in prison, Truitt said after the hearing.
Tillema, who turns 22 on Saturday, admitted during questioning by Jasper Circuit Court Judge John Potter to driving drunk on the night of the May 22 crash outside DeMotte and causing the death of passengers Eric Sims, 17, of DeMotte, and Taylor Cavinder, 16, of Wheatfield.
Sims and Cavinder were Kankakee Valley High School students.
A third passenger, Thomas Cooley Jr., 21, of DeMotte, was not seriously injured.
Tillema, dressed in a black shirt and tie and dress pants during the proceeding, has remained up until Friday in home detention because of serious injuries he suffered in the crash.
He is scheduled for surgery on his arm Wednesday, Truitt told Potter.
Potter overruled a request by Truitt to allow Tillema to remain at home until his sentencing.
Potter instead remanded Tillema to the county's work release program in part to protect him because of what he characterized as strong feelings against him in the community.
"I'm not sure someone might not harm you from now until the sentencing," Potter said.
Erica Fisher, Eric Sims' mother, said after the hearing she's not happy with the plea agreement but is pleased with the judge's decision to place Tillema in custody.
"I'm ecstatic about his going into custody today. I'll go home and kiss my son's urn and celebrate," Fisher said.
She said she's also pleased Tillema wouldn't be home for his birthday.
Diane and David Cavinder, parents of Taylor Cavinder, reserved comments at the advice of their legal counsel, who was ill and not able to attend the hearing.
Tillema's family, including his parents and brothers, bid him an emotional farewell as he was taken into custody outside the courthouse.
Tillema's uncle David Long, of DeMotte, called the crash a "horrible tragedy for all involved."
"Words can't describe how terrible it is. ... We pray for them," Long said, referring to those who lost their loved ones in the crash.
He and his wife, Brenda Long, said they had heard rumors of possible threats against their nephew and believe that's why the judge had him taken into custody.
"There's a lot of hurt out there," David Long said.