Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jun 2005
Source: Daily Herald (IL)
Copyright: 2005 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Christy Gutowski
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


Partial Award To Be At Least $200,000

More than five years ago, 18-year-old Sara Aeschlimann of Naperville 
died of an overdose on Mother's Day after taking what she thought was 
a popular club drug.

Her friend, Garrett Harth, who was convicted of supplying the drugs, 
is serving out the remaining days of his prison sentence.

Jan and Robert Aeschlimann sued Harth and his parents because it was 
in their home that Sara fell ill. She died hours later in a hospital.

A partial settlement in the lawsuit will be made public today in 
DuPage County Judge Stephen Culliton's courtroom.

The girl's parents will be awarded at least an estimated $200,000, 
all of which is covered by the Harths' homeowners insurance policy. 
The policy is capped at $300,000. The award releases Garrett Harth 
and his parents, Gary and Fran, from further liability in the case.

But the Aeschlimanns' landmark suit also targets other alleged drug 
dealers identified by police on suspicion they sold club drugs in the 
area when Sara died. It is based on a rarely used 1996 law that 
allows victims to hold dealers accountable for injuries as 
manufacturers who produce defective products.

All of the other defendants have been dismissed except a 22-year-old 
Naperville man, who hasn't shown up for myriad court dates. Brian S. 
Starck is accused by Garrett Harth of selling him the drugs that led 
to Sara's death. Starck still could be held liable for millions.

For example, the family of a 17-year-old McHenry man who died days 
after Sara in a similar overdose death won a $16 million judgment 
last year against the people who sold him drugs.

Awards such as these are largely symbolic, because many of the 
defendants were incarcerated. Still, Jan Aeschlimann said her intent 
was more about sending a message than receiving money.

"I think about my daughter every single day every single day," she 
said, fighting back tears. "I think about how she passed. Those five 
hours (in the hospital) were the hardest of my life.

"Money was never why we brought the case. It was about 
accountability. We wanted them to be held accountable. We want kids 
to know they are accountable when they sell drugs, buy drugs or use 
drugs. They need to know what can happen."

Sara had thought she was taking Ecstasy, a popular club drug. The 
pills turned out to be the toxic lookalike drug PMA, which, in the 
following weeks, also caused the untimely deaths of the McHenry teen 
and another in Lisle.

Attorney John Kreamer, who filed the Aeschlimann suit, also won the 
$16 million judgment in the McHenry teen's case. He said they still 
are working on collecting the award.

Garrett Harth, 26, is expected to be paroled Jan. 27 after serving 
less than six years of a 15-year prison term. He was sentenced to 
five years for Sara's case. Harth received a separate 15-year term, 
to be served concurrently, in an unrelated conviction for selling 
cocaine to two police informants.

Harth also had faced involuntary manslaughter charges after a 
jailhouse informant told prosecutors he admitted secretly crushing 
more pills into Sara's water to coax her into sex -- a charge Harth 
adamantly denied. The allegation was eventually dropped.

Officials said Harth has obtained a horticulture degree in prison and 
plans to join his parents in Arizona, where they now live, upon his 
release from prison.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth