CROWN POINT — A man was placed on probation Monday after pleading guilty to a reduced charge for jumping a curb while "joyriding" in a car in Munster and hitting a man and his two young children.
Nicholas C. Heppner-Lundin, 21, of Munster, also must complete 180 days of community service for the crash Aug. 18, 2018, that left a then-18-month-old girl with a traumatic brain injury and bruising all over her body and her then-5-year-old brother with bruising to his body and scrapes to his head.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell asked Heppner-Lundin to recall what went through his mind in the moments before the crash.
Heppner-Lundin tearfully said he saw his trajectory and felt like he was in shock.
"I knew it was going to happen, and there was no way to avoid it," he said.
Boswell told him to remember that feeling and use it to remain focused moving forward.
Heppner-Lundin pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor count of reckless driving. He initially had been facing six felony counts of criminal recklessness and three misdemeanor counts of reckless driving.
In accordance with a plea agreement, Boswell sentenced him to one year in jail but suspended the term in favor of probation. He also must remain enrolled at Purdue University.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Judith Massa read a letter from the children's father, Kevin Foy, who also was hurt in the crash, and Foy's wife. The Foys were in the courtroom, but they opted not to speak because they were too emotional, she said.
As Massa read the letter, she also became emotional, and Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Burke finished reading the statement.
Kevin Foy wrote he watched helplessly as Heppner-Lundin's car barreled toward him and his two children, who were in a stroller, in the 9600 block of White Oak Avenue.
"It veered toward me and ripped my children from my hands," the letter said.
Foy found his son lying injured in the grass, but had to immediately leave the boy to search for his daughter. His son was ejected from the stroller, but his daughter remained strapped into it when he found it toppled over.
"I held her as she began to lose consciousness," Foy wrote.
The girl, accompanied by her mother, later was airlifted to a Chicago hospital because of the severity of the toddler's injuries.
The couple's son began wetting his bed after the crash and remains scared to walk on a sidewalk. The family anxiously marks milestones for their daughter because it's not yet clear how much her injury could affect her development.
Heppner-Lundin apologized to the Foys, saying he initially thought he might have killed the children and felt "destroyed." The path to healing will be long for everyone, he said.
"Mistakes this big should never happen," he said.
Massa said the Foys' medical expenses were being addressed in a different venue.
There was no evidence showing drugs or alcohol were factors in the crash, Massa and defense attorney Paul Stracci said.