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Arthur J Pais in New York
Thomas Adams, a 23-year-old with repeated alcoholic problems, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for driving a stolen van into a minivan, killing four members of a family, a year ago near Chicago.
The Dhami family was returning home from a wedding. Killed in the crash were the parents and paternal grandparents of Prinkia Dhami, 9, and her brother, Kanwar, 8.
Gurcharan Singh Dhami, father of the children, was 37; his wife Baljinder, 36. Achar Dhami was 77 and his wife Nasib, 75. The children were in the van, but they escaped with a few broken bones.
Baljinder, who had undergone surgery for a tumour a few months before the accident, had been responding well to medication and was determined to fight for a healthy life, family members said.
Adams, who had one conviction for driving while drunk, had had his licence revoked three times for similar offences; he had also pleaded guilty to stealing a vehicle several months before the crash that killed the family. He was on bail at the time of the crash.
DuPage County Circuit Judge Ann Jorgensen sentenced Adams on Wednesday for homicide and related violations. The prosecution had asked for a 62-year sentence.
In his statement before the judge, Adams asked for forgiveness from the two children and other members of the family.
Satnam Singh, an uncle of the children who takes care of them now, said Adams should seek God's forgiveness. "If God is willing to forgive him, we can forgive him too," a local newspaper quoted him as saying.
The Chicago Tribune quoted Prinkia telling the court during her testimony how she had cut off the clothes "that my grandma and mom had made for me to wear that night".
"When I was being taken to surgery, I asked my aunt and cousin where my parents were," she said.
The children were told of the deaths several days after the tragedy.
Kanwar described his terror at the scene of the accident: "I was so scared, I tried to wake my grandma up, but she wouldn't wake up."
His sister was on the floor of the van, crying for help. "I saw my mom in her seat leaning to the left and not moving."
While William Padish, the first assistant public defender, described Adams as an addict who is taking responsibility for his actions, the prosecution scoffed. Its lawyers were not impressed that Adams had entered a guilty plea. Did he have much of a choice, they asked.
"During the argument, the defence argued that Adams was taking classes while incarcerated," Neal Thompson, one of the prosecutors, said, "and I said simply that he was doing it because he was in jail."
"There's no booze available to him there. There are no drugs or cars to steal. That was evidence he belonged in jail."
(Som Chivukula contributed to this report.)
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