NEWS

Friends get six-month jail sentence in prank that turned fatal

Andy Kravetz

A six-month stint in the Peoria County Jail for four men involved in a fatal college prank last summer should let people know they are being held responsible for their actions, said the county’s top prosecutor Wednesday.

"To some, especially those not serving it, it will seem light. To others, it will seem punitive and not corrective. I concede that I believe this imprisonment to be a punitive measure. It ought to be. It ought to punish the conduct and it ought to message the minds of college-age students that fun is fun, but enough is enough," said State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons, just after the four men were led away in handcuffs to begin serving heir sentence.

The four friends — David Crady, 20, Ryan Johnson, 22, Daniel Cox, 20 and Nicholas Mentgen, 22 — all appeared in Peoria County Circuit Court on Wednesday and, in a span of 30 minutes, went from average college students to convicted felons.

They all pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a reduced felony as part of a plea agreement for the Aug. 12 death of 19-year-old Sheridan "Danny" Dahlquist. As a result, more serious charges of aggravated arson and possession of an explosive or incendiary device were dropped.

"As the death of Danny Dahlquist is permanent, so shall the lifetime felony conviction of the defendants be permanent," Lyons said.

Under the terms of their probation, the four men will serve all of their six months in jail, which is unusual. Most county jail sentences are "day for day" eligible, meaning a person will get one day off for each day he serves. Not in this case.

Lyons said the four men will not serve their time in the same pod, or wing, of the jail so as to avoid an "Animal House, fraternity or boy’s club" atmosphere. He said they would not receive special treatment.

Peoria County Sheriff Michael McCoy reiterated that, saying it’s possible they could wind up sleeping on a cot on the floor of the overcrowded jail until a cell opened up.

Crady, Mentgen and Johnson, all roommates and members of the Bradley University soccer team with Dahlquist, had been drinking with Dahlquist and Cox, who attended Illinois Central College and frequently visited the house at 2008 W. Laura Ave.

They had engaged in several pranks with fireworks cumulating with two Roman candles being shoved underneath Dahlquist’s door and fired off, the 10 or so balls of 1,600-degree hot gas blasting into his bedroom. The others had run outside and only after they saw a glow in the upstairs bedroom did they realize something had gone wrong.

His friends tried to save Dahlquist but were driven away by intense heat, Lyons said.

The prosecutor gave a lengthy factual statement, required by law to show prosecutors had enough evidence to proceed. Usually, such a statement contains enough facts to prove the case but little more. In this case, however, Lyons went in-depth into the various accounts given by Crady, Cox and Mentgen, pointing out the false statements they had initially provided which placed blame on others.

Johnson had fled the scene shortly after the fire and never gave a statement to authorities.

In addition to the jail sentence, restitution of nearly $21,000 was ordered to be paid collectively by the four. The money will likely come out of the $50,000 each posted as bail to get out of custody after their arrests. Several hundred dollars in fees and court costs were also assessed and each man will have to pay a $25 a month fee for the 30 months they will be on probation after getting out of jail.

The money will be paid to both Bradley and to he Dahlquist family to cover insurance costs and funeral and other expenses.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com.