Three Decades' Worth of Prison for Defendant in Triple Fatality

Nov. 22, 2019 noon 

(WGTD)---The Illinois man who rear-ended a Jeep last spring, killing three members of a Kenosha family and injuring another, received a 32-year-long prison sentence Friday.

Under the state's truth-in-sentencing law, 41-year-old Timothy Vandervere of Beach Park won't get out of prison until he's in his 70s.  He received 232 days' credit for time already served. 

The victims were physician Michael Rizzo, his brother, Vincent Rizzo, a dentist, and Vincent’s wife Mary, who was a nurse. Another brother, the driver of the Jeep, Gerald Rizzo, was seriously injured. They were described as a tight-knit, church-going family that was well respected and loved in the community.

Authorities believe that Vandervere had been traveling at about 100 mph when he rammed the Jeep on Highway 50 just east of Paddock Lake after narrowly missing other vehicles.

Vandervere’s blood-alchohol content was nearly four times the legal limit. He apparently had been at his brother's house in Kenosha County drinking before the crash, although the brother denied that Vandervere was impaired. 

In passing sentence, Judge Bruce Schroeder spoke of the need to toughen drunk driving laws, especially for the first offense. "Our laws are woefully inadequate," said Schroeder, adding that somebody caught intentionally destroying a weed that's considered endangered is subject to a harsher sentence than a first-time drunk driving offender. "The deterrence comes when people think that there are going to be ugly consequences for the first offense," he said.

Schroeder said most people who have one or two drinks before dinner then drive usually don't have anything to worry about. 

At the 90-minute-long sentencing hearing, two members of the Rizzo family advocated for tougher drunk driving laws. "There is a drinking and driving culture here that doesn't exist in other states," said Catherine Koessl.

She and her sister struggled to describe the magnitude of the impact the crash has had on their family. "My family's life will always be defined as before and after," Koessl said.

Vandervere had a poor driving record, according to Kenosha County Deputy District Attorney Angelina Gabriel, He was convicted of speeding six times. A prior arrest for drunk driving was amended to reckless driving. Vandervere had been drinking before getting into an accident that seriously injured his girlfriend, Gabriel said. "That should've been a wake-up call for Mr. Vandervere." 

Vandervere's attorney described his client as a hard-worker who spent most of his life in the auto repair business. Several years ago, Vanderevere saved up enough money to buy a house for his fiance and his two daughters, ages 6 and 4.  "He's not a bad guy, but that doesn't change the fact of why he's here," said attorney Matt Last. 

Vandervere himself spoke briefly, apologizing to both the Rizzo family and his own.