A Clinton County man who left the scene of a pedestrian fatality and tried to have his pickup crushed afterward at a salvage yard will serve six months in jail.
An apologetic Jonathon Nast, of Damiansville, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from the death of 23-year-old Lana Albert, of Edwardsville.
Albert’s family signed off on the plea deal, saying they didn’t want another young life ruined.
Albert was walking on old U.S. 50 near the Big Stix bar in Breese about 2 a.m. on June 8, 2014, when she was hit by a truck driven by Nast. Police arrested Nast days later, shortly after he tried to have his pickup crushed at an auto-salvage operation in Murphysboro.
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As part of a plea bargain, Nast was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days in jail, but could end up serving only 90 days if he behaves in jail. Nast also was fined $2,500 and ordered to pay court costs, and placed on probation until March 2, 2017.
Clinton County State’s Attorney John Hudspeth said Albert’s family is satisfied with the resolution.
“We want to thank the parents of Lana for their continued cooperation in this case,” Hudspeth said. “We consulted with them and they were present in court. They were very much in approval of the plea that we presented, and are glad that they don’t have to go through a trial.”
Hudspeth said Albert’s family has sought closure, “and hopefully this will help them.”
Albert’s father, Ray Albert of the Odin area, said in an interview afterward that the past 15 months “have been just pure hell” for Albert’s family.
“I don’t think we could have went through a trial,” Ray Albert said. “Mr. Nast is a young man. This is just my feelings, but I didn’t want to ruin another life. I think he needed some jail time to think about what he did, but I don’t know, I didn’t want him to go to prison.”
Nast, 26, read an apology to Albert’s family. In the paperwork for the plea agreement, it was spelled out that Nast was required to issue an apology in open court.
Nast, reading from handwritten notes, remained seated and did not face the Albert family as he issued the apology.
“I can’t apologize enough. I should have spoken with the authorities as soon as I heard it all over the media. I’m sorry for my actions on June 10th for trying to get rid of my vehicle and I’m willing to accept the punishment,” Nast said.
He added: “Sorry to the parents of Ms. Albert. I’m very sorry for the loss of your daughter.”
Hudspeth said Nast seemed genuinely apologetic.
“I think he is. He told the police the first day that he was sorry he didn’t come forward,” Hudspeth said.
A sister of Albert, seated in the courtroom, broke down and cried after Nast read the apology.
The plea deal calls for dismissal of the more serious of two charges: failure to report an accident involving death. He pleaded guilty to the less-serious charge of obstructing justice or attempting to destroy evidence.
Nast’s case had been set to go to trial on Oct. 5. Legal experts have said the case posed a challenge for prosecutors, in part because Albert herself was intoxicated. Shortly before Albert was hit, police received reports about someone walking in traffic on the highway.
Breese police officers were investigating the report when they discovered a shoe on the highway. They then found Albert’s body in a ditch along the roadway.
Albert and Nast had both been at Big Stix, but not together.
Nast’s attorney, Joseph B. Heiligenstein, said Nast wasn’t aware — initially — that he hit a person.
“He knew that he struck something that evening, but he didn’t think that he struck a person,” Heiligenstein said. “He knew he struck an object. He thought it was an animal. He wasn’t certain.”
Heiligenstein said Nast only realized that he hit a person when he saw subsequent news accounts about a pedestrian death.
“At that point he made a mistake. Instead of going to authorities, which he wishes he would have done, he decided to try to get rid of his truck. He was charged with that and he’s pleaded guilty to that,” Heiligenstein said.
He added, “We’re happy that we were able to obtain a dismissal of leaving the scene of an accident involving death, the more serious charge. I wholeheartedly believe that at the time of the accident, my client didn’t realize he struck another person.”
Ray Albert questions that.
“I think he knew exactly what he did,” Albert said. “If he would have come forward the next day or even two days later, we probably wouldn’t even be here. The fact that he covered it up and tried to destroy the truck is what really stuck in my craw. If he would have come forward, that’s a whole different ballgame.”
The plea agreement calls for Nast to begin serving the jail term Jan. 11. Hudspeth said Nast is involved in seasonal construction work, and delaying the start of the jail sentence will help him keep his job and pay his fine.
Nast was given credit for two days he served in jail after his arrest. He will be eligible to earn “day-for-day good time” credit, meaning he could be released after serving three months of the jail term if he behaves while incarcerated.
Ray Albert said Lana’s family is glad to have the “whole horrible saga” of the court case concluded.
“We’ve taken the next step, but we’ll always remember her, we’ll always honor her memory, we’ll always think of her and we’ll always love her,” he said.
Lana Albert worked as a dental assistant in Glen Carbon.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White suspended Nast’s driving privileges shortly after Nast was charged.
Henry Haupt, a spokesman for White, said Wednesday, “As soon as our office receives the documentation from the circuit clerk, the Secretary of State's office will revoke Mr. Nast's driver's license for a minimum of one year.”