DeKALB – A DeKalb alderman is speaking out about his personal struggles and the "irreparable damage" he's endured as one of the victims of a 2017 car crash that killed a DeKalb High School senior, a day ahead of the driver's sentencing in DeKalb County court.
Scott McAdams, Ward 5 alderman and DeKalb resident, said he was delivering pizzas Jan. 17, 2017, when John A. Yanni III, of the 100 block of South 18th Street in St. Charles, was driving drunk and caused a crash which killed Johnathon Ode, an 18-year-old DeKalb High School senior whose parents both worked at the school. In January, Yanni plead guilty to the charges of aggravated driving under the influence, and faces more than a decade in prison. He'll be sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Phillip Montgomery at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the DeKalb County courthouse.
Six weeks later, McAdams, then 46, suffered a stroke as a result of head injuries sustained in the crash, and remembers the horrific scene around 7:15 p.m. that winter night, and the aftermath of Ode's tragic death.
"I had just taken off with a pizza," McAdams said. "I saw him, Yanni passed me, and he was driving a little bit aggressively. It was dark and raining. We're out on (Route) 38 just east of Peace (Road), and all of a sudden I heard this amazing boom, like an explosion and thought 'What the hell?' Then his car came flying out of the darkness into the road in front of me."
McAdams said he remembers slamming on his breaks, knowing his 2002 Hyundai Elantra, which he'd bought for about $900 from a buddy to deliver pizzas, was going to crash. McAdams said he didn't have his seatbelt on, and the impact cracked the back of his head against his seat and he blacked out.
The explosion McAdams had heard shortly before his own crash was Yanni's 2001 Chevrolet Silverado pickup headed west on Route 38, crossing the highway’s center line, and smashing into two other cars.
Yanni’s truck first hit a 1995 Ford F-150 pickup driven by River J. Rich, 19, of Cortland, then collided head-on with Ode’s vehicle, a 2000 Ford Taurus. Ode was the driver, and Evan Cortez, 23, of Elgin, was his passenger.
McAdams' car rear-ended Yanni's last. He came to moments later.
"I got out of car, and realized I better start taking pictures for insurance," McAdams said. "My car was totaled. I went over to Johnathon's car and I was going to look, and a voice said, 'Don't, I think he's dead.' There was another person in his car, that kid's permanently disabled. It was just a 5 minute moment where all of a sudden everything changed."
Cortez, a Northern Illinois University student who suffered serious and permanent injuries as a result of the head-on collision, later sued Yanni.
The Ode family's heartache continued through the loss of their son. On Feb. 18, Katie Ode, the teen's stepmother, died from cancer. Two days later, Yanni plead guilty four days before his trial was set to begin.
On his personal Facebook page Thursday, McAdams posted a statement he said he intends to be read Friday at the sentencing, at the request, he said, of the Ode family. In it, he details his struggles since post-crash-induced stroke, which he said changed his personality and lamented the person he was before.
"I sat down to play Blackbird on the guitar, and I was like 'Why can't I remember any of the lyrics to this stupid song?'" McAdams recalled. "My mom called out of the blue, and I told her what happened and she said you better call the doctor right away."
McAdams' doctor told him to come in immediately, and he was told he'd had a stroke. McAdams is also no stranger to struggle – he faced a battle with esophageal cancer in 2013 and a staph infection post-operation which almost killed him.
He said he's not remained in contact with the Ode family.
"At the wake [for Johnathon], I walked into the wake and saw the picture of Johnathon and he looked just like [my son] Ryan, so I have a hard time," McAdams said. Ryan, his 20-year-old, has special needs. He said the stroke has made him forget some precious moments from Ryan's childhood he's only able to recall when prompted by his son.
"I didn't know them before this, and I didn't really have anything comforting to say," McAdams said. "I don't feel like I want to reach out and reopen a wound. There was so much going on, too. Trump had just been elected and three months before, we were pretty sure that Cleveland was going to beat the Cubs, and Hillary was going to be the president. And I ended up losing my job at a telemarketing place because of my stroke. It was just kind of a tough period."
McAdams said despite some initial ill feelings, he doesn't harbor ill-will against Yanni and will be 'content' ("If content is the right word," he said) with a six-year sentence, the minimum that awaits Yanni Friday. He could be sentenced to 14 years.
"Six is still OK. Six years is a long time when you're 28 years old," McAdams said. "I'm a firm believer in the system. I'm not really vindictive or looking for revenge. There was a long period of time where I harbored lots of ill feelings, but that's tempered. I really just miss who I was."
McAdams, who went to a private high school, said he used to be a voracious reader and Jeopardy watcher, often to the chagrin of those he watched with, and even tried out for the game show once, prior to the crash.
"Close friends who have known me for decades say I'm not the same person they knew. They tell me it's not my fault. They understand I had a stroke," McAdams said in his statement. "I have a hard time remembering names, dates and other important details. I used to be like a savant. It makes my current work in public service unnecessarily challenging."
He said stroke survivors often have limited life spans, and worries who will be around for Ryan when he's gone.
"I won't ever forget attending Johnathon Ode's funeral. Johnathon was my son's age. Jon's father is around my age. There but for the grace of God go I," McAdams said. "All of this could have been avoided if one individual had simply used his frontal lobe and made better decisions."