Taylor Cavinder's colorful bedroom — accented by zebra print curtains — remains untouched nearly seven months after her death, said her mother, Diane Cavinder.

The decorated room, which included a collage with carefully clipped fashion magazine photos, perfectly reflected Taylor's style.

"She was so artistic; she would set trends," Cavinder said.

Taylor Cavinder, 16, and fellow Kankakee Valley High School classmate Eric Sims, 17, were killed in a May 22 crash outside DeMotte.

Driver Dean Tillema III, 22, of DeMotte, at a Friday hearing in Jasper Circuit Court, pleaded guilty to two Class C felony counts of causing death while driving with a controlled substance.

Tillema was taken to Jasper County Correctional Facility's work release program, where he'll be held until his 1 p.m. Dec. 29 sentencing.

Cavinder said her daughter, who would have been entering her senior year at Kankakee Valley High School, had traveled to a fashion design school in California she hoped to attend after high school graduation.

Taylor Cavinder, an athletic standout in basketball and softball, also enjoyed singing as well as working with special education students.

"She liked life in general. ... She was just so full of life," Cavinder said.

Diane Cavinder and her husband, David Cavinder, were unable to comment following the Dec. 3 plea hearing at the advice of their attorney, Brian Less, who was not at the proceedings.

But on Monday, following clearance from Less, Diane Cavinder spoke openly during a phone interview with The Times.

She said she was surprised and shocked when Tillema was ordered by Judge John Potter to be taken into custody.

"I was glad to see (Tillema) was going to be in jail on his 22nd birthday. I thought it was ironic he was going there right before his birthday. I buried my daughter on her 17th birthday," Cavinder said.

Cavinder said she's angry about the possibility Tillema likely will serve only about 4 1/2 years in prison after agreeing in the plea to two six-year consecutive terms.

"It was a slap in the face. Are Taylor and Eric's lives only worth 4 1/2 years?" said Cavinder, who works as the athletic director's secretary at Kankakee Valley Middle School.

Cavinder said she knows her parenting skills have come under question because of the circumstances the night of the May 22 crash.

But she said she and her husband had been told by their daughter that she was going to hang out and stay with a group of her girlfriends, which had been a Friday night custom.

"I had never heard of Dean Tillema before and would have never let her hang out with a 21-year-old," Cavinder said.

She said Taylor's death in a fiery crash was hard on her husband because he had been out of town on job-related duties and had missed by 15 minutes saying goodbye for the last time to his daughter.

"The worst thing for both of us is we had to have a closed casket because she was burned so badly in the crash that night. We didn't  get the closure we needed," Cavinder said.

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