June 18, 2024
Local News

2017 record year for McHenry County drug-induced homicide charges

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WOODSTOCK – More than a year after the death of a Crystal Lake South High School graduate, two local families remain grief-stricken – one, which lost a son and brother to a heroin overdose, and that of his friend awaiting trial for providing him with the lethal dose.

In recent years, McHenry County prosecutors have made a concerted effort to file more drug-induced homicide charges to bring justice for families of overdose victims, keep known dealers out of the community and deter others from continuing to distribute. Since 2003, McHenry County has charged 25 people with drug-induced homicide, records show. Nine of those were charged in 2017 under McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally's yearlong charge.

Advocates for rehabilitation-based reform, however, have said charges do little more than imprison the last person who was with an overdose victim – often another drug addict.

For Rachel Czipo, life after the overdose death of the eldest of her two sons, Jacob Czipo, made even the smallest of holiday preparations a painful reminder that he wouldn't be there Christmas morning. Jacob, 20, died May 18 of a heroin overdose in his parents' Crystal Lake home. He was expected to start his third year as a lifeguard for the Crystal Lake Park District the next morning.

“It’s that piece missing. Just the emotional little things like hanging a stocking,” Rachel Czipo said. “The worst part is having to sign cards, having to sign cards and not putting his name on it.”

Meanwhile, Judith Galloway and her family battled technological problems that prevented them from having a two-way video conference with her son, 20-year-old John Galloway, who is in custody on drug-induced homicide charges at McHenry County Jail, where’s he’s remained since June 16. He would need to post $122,500 bail to be released.

“We had seven minutes Christmas Day for him to see us,” Judith Galloway said.

While the Czipos come to grips with Jacob’s death, the Galloways must face the possibility that John could spend decades in prison if convicted.

The families differ on how well their sons knew each other. Both attended Crystal Lake South, where Czipo graduated in 2015. Galloway left school early and got his GED, family members said. Although they’d been acquaintances for years, Jacob and John’s friendship seemed to take off in early 2017, the Czipos said.

“Their son is still alive. He can go to jail … and come out and still be a productive person,” Rachel Czipo said. “My son can’t.”

More overdoses, more charges

Despite its name, drug-induced homicide isn’t charged in the same fashion as other death-related crimes such as murder, Kenneally said.

A person commits drug-induced homicide when they deliver a drug to someone who later dies from using that drug, according to Illinois law.

The offense is a Class X felony, meaning a person convicted of the charge faces a sentence of six to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors under the leadership of former McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi said drug-induced homicide charges were hard to investigate and prove, but were becoming more common as the area's drug problem grew with its population.

Despite the area's stagnant population today, opioid overdoses have increased 17 percent since 2016, McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski said.

In an effort to stem the tide and take drug dealers off the streets, county prosecutors have been filing more drug-induced homicide charges. The nine people charged with the crime in 2017 equaled the total for the six years from 2011 to 2016, according to court records.

Of the total 25 people charged since 2003, some were convicted of other charges such as involuntary manslaughter, but only five have been convicted of drug-induced homicide.

Those convicted served anywhere from six to 28 years. The lengthiest sentence, 28 years in prison, was handed down in February 2017 to a 37-year-old Zion man, James Linder.

Other sentences included: six years for Herman Trigg, formerly of Crystal Lake; eight years for Rolando Aguilar of Wauconda; 10 years for Philip Neumann of Lake in the Hills; and 18 years for Carlton Maynor of Chicago.

Critics: Charges wrong response

The Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that seeks to have the drug problem treated as a public health issue rather than criminal justice issue, published a report in November that criticized drug-induced homicide charges as being misguided.

Critics of drug-induced homicides and similar charges say the law is too frequently used against people best positioned to seek medical help for overdose victims – family, friends, acquaintances and small-time dealers who often sell to finance their own habit, DPA senior staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle said.

“I think that what we’re losing sight of here is that this is completely random,” LaSalle said. “A lot of times we’re talking about people who buy and use together – night after night after night – and it’s honestly per chance who dies and who gets put into prison.”

There were 58 deaths attributed to opioid overdose in McHenry County in 2017 – about 80 percent of all overdose deaths in the county this year. Since Nov. 20, the county has seen four overdose deaths, Kenneally said.

It’s still too early to know whether locking up people on the charge will reduce the number of overdoses, but the state’s attorney remains hopeful that it will send a message to dealers.

“We’re not just charging people who are using drugs collectively,” Kenneally said. “If you are going to put your high – your ability to use drugs – over the life and safety of somebody, to me that requires a more robust response, especially if those drugs result in the loss of a life.”

Illinois has been one of the most aggressive states in prosecuting drug-induced homicide cases. Between 2011 and 2016, there were 486 news mentions of drug-induced homicide prosecutions in Illinois, trailing only Wisconsin and Ohio with 882 and 577 mentions, respectively, the DPA reported. The organization used media coverage of prosecutions as a reference, since exact data of the number of people prosecuted under the law was not available.

“It’s just a very easy out to say that we’re going to prosecute and put the blame on a single person, when really the blame lies in the societal response to drug use,” LaSalle said.

The state’s attorney is adamant his office isn’t simply prosecuting friends of overdose victims who were using together. Rather, Kenneally’s team is targeting people they believe delivered the fatal doses, thereby keeping dealers of any level off the street when an overdose occurs, he said.

“We’re going where the evidence leads us – full stop,” Kenneally said.

Records from 2013 to 2016 show that McHenry County had charged fewer people with drug-induced homicide compared with its neighboring counties, the DPA reported. During that period, Lake County, with an estimated population of 703,047, had charged 17 people in drug-induced homicide cases. As of July 2017, Kane County – population 531,715 –  had charged 13 people, and McHenry County – population 307,004 – had charged 11, the DPA reported.

“It’s no secret to most people but in particular to people who use heroin and or sell heroin, that this stuff is poison. ... It literally kills people,” Kenneally said.

In John Galloway’s case, his mother fears a conviction might discourage future overdose witnesses from calling 911, and could lead to more drug-related deaths.

“This could actually hurt our community so bad,” Judith Galloway said. “If our son is charged with this and he is taken to trial with this, how many more children are going to die?”

A young man’s death

At 8:06 a.m. May 18, Crystal Lake police responded to a 911 call of an unresponsive man in the 1700 block of Nashville Lane. When police arrived, they found Jacob Czipo unconscious. They used Narcan and CPR to try to revive him, according to police reports obtained by the Northwest Herald. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The night before, John Galloway had spent the night at Jacob Czipo’s parents’ home.

“My son was alive when I left for work,” Rachel Czipo said.

But that morning, Galloway awoke to find his friend unconscious and called 911, according to audio of the 911 call obtained by the Northwest Herald under the state's Freedom of Information Act. During the call, Galloway tells a dispatcher the address of the home, but left the phone unattended when the dispatcher told him to make sure Jacob was lying flat on his back. Galloway indicated he'd called 911 from a landline in a different room.

“I don’t know,” Galloway told the 911 operator. “I came over for a sleepover last night and I woke up about two hours ago and he was fine, and I woke up and now he just looks really blue.”

The then 19-year-old Galloway and 22-year-old Seth Ferguson were listed on the police report as suspects in Jacob Czipo’s death.

In July, Galloway and Ferguson were charged with drug-induced homicide. Charges against Ferguson later were dismissed, although he still faces one to three years in prison for possession of a controlled substance, charging records show.

Good Samaritan laws, which provide some legal immunity for those who seek help for someone experiencing an overdose, only protect against possession charges in Illinois. So although John Galloway called 911, he wasn’t safe from prosecution.

“He was a 19-year-old drug addict who’s now facing 30 years in jail,” said John’s older brother, Cory Galloway. “I mean, that’s his whole life. There is no future if he is charged and convicted of that crime. He’s a kid.”

Mike and Rachel Czipo said they’ve forgiven John Galloway, and although it doesn’t comfort them to know another young man could receive a potential 30-year prison sentence, they feel some legal action is appropriate.

“We hope after all this is over that John lives a productive life, since we do not want other families to have to go through this senseless tragedy,” Mike Czipo said.

Dealing with the aftermath of losing their funny and family-oriented son to an overdose has the Czipos worried that if John Galloway isn’t punished, he’ll be free to provide other people with drugs, Mike Czipo said.

“We know from his friends that the first time [Jacob] did heroin was with John, and we know the last time he did heroin was with John,” he said. “From my perspective, he’s almost like a carrier, because he doesn’t die from it, but he exposes people to it.”

Galloway already was being held in McHenry County Jail on unrelated heroin charges when he was charged in Czipo’s death. Since being in jail, the 20-year-old has received rehabilitation services and been clean of heroin for six months, Judith Galloway said.

“There’s not a person who is arrested for a drug-related crime that is not given every opportunity to avail themselves of some kind of recovery service,” Kenneally said.

In his sobriety, John Galloway and his family are forced to come to terms with the ways drug use has affected their lives.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Jake and his parents and his brother,” Judith Galloway said. “It kills our family that that happened. That doesn’t mean John had anything to do with it.”

Galloway is due back in court Jan. 23.

Meanwhile, the Czipo family takes every moment they find to memorialize Jacob’s life. A tree at Crystal Lake’s Ken Bird Park has been planted in his honor, friends have gotten his name tattooed, and at Christmas, an ornament decorated with photos of Jacob hung from the family tree.

“If you’re asking us, does 30 years fit the crime, I don’t think so … but on the other hand there’s nothing right now that they can do other than put him in jail,” Mike Czipo said.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald from 2017 through 2021. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.