August 07, 2012 | 03:58 PMELKHORN — An Elkhorn mom's life was turned upside down after her car was hit by a multiple time drunken driver who fled an accident scene in downtown Elkhorn in January.
Joy Populorum, a mother of a 3-year-old, told Judge John Race that she worked three jobs to save enough money to buy a car. A car that was totaled in an instant when Larry Ross, 50, crashed into her on Jan. 25. After the crash, Ross, a multiple-time felon whose criminal record was described by Race as horrendous, left without helping Populorum.
Just prior to the accident, Ross was released from jail after posting a $1,500 cash bond in a separate drunken-driving offense. He was arrested for fifth-offense drunken driving on Jan. 23 in the city of Delavan when he was driving to Walmart to buy work clothes. Ross should have been placed on a probation hold by the state Department of Corrections, but due to a communication failure, he wasn't.
In a separate case, Ross' parole was revoked, which makes the structure of the sentence handed down Aug. 2 by Race complicated. However, the bottom line is he will be in prison until at least 2022 and under supervision until he is in his 70s.
"When are you going to learn?" Populorum asked during the sentencing hearing.
During the hearing, Populorum told Race she believes Ross needs alcohol and drug treatment and didn't ask the judge to send him to prison.
"I think you should live a life where you struggle day to day. I think you should struggle like we do," she said. "I worked that night."
After the hearing and before driving to work with her new car — one that lacks the luxury of air conditioning — Populorum explained why she didn't ask for prison, and why she quickly regretted it.
"To me, I sat there and thought about it and I thought about and I didn't think that prison was helping him so I figured give him a chance at life," she said. "See what we go through and have him get drug and alcohol treatment."
Although Populorum didn't ask for prison, she said she would have after hearing Deputy District Attorney Joshua Grube describe Ross' lengthy criminal history.
In 1980, Ross was involved in home invasions in Milwaukee County where he would knock on doors and rush the person who answered.
The victims in those robberies were of ten pistol-whipped, gagged and tied up while their homes were ransacked. Elderly people were often the targets, Grube said.
Ross has been under state supervision for more than 30 years for that offense, and, had he not committed any new offenses, his supervision would have ended in 2016. In 1992, after being released on parole, Ross was again arrested for armed robbery. In that case he drove the getaway car in a supermarket holdup.
In the past 20 years, Ross has been released and returned to prison numerous times for different offenses, including drunken driving and fleeing. His most recent release date was Oct. 18, 2011.
On Jan. 25, Ross went to the bar and drank. According to the accident report, Ross was driving on North Washington Street where he blew a stop sign and hit Populorum, who was driving on East Court Street. The impact of the crash forced Populorum's vehicle into a light pole. She had to crawl out the vehicle's broken window to escape.
Grube said the fact that Ross fled the scene without checking on the other driver's welfare speaks to Ross' character.
"It is pure, simple, dumb luck on his part that she wasn't killed," Grube said. "He knows how hard he hit that car, and he fled the scene.
Public defender Travis Schwantes and Ross recommended a prison sentence in the case. However, Schwantes said Ross' sentence she give him a chance to work in the future.
"Jail and prison is very familiar to him, and its quite frankly easier than real life," Schwantes said.
During his allocution, Ross said he regretted drinking and driving that night and admitted he is an alcoholic. His wife and step daughter were at the hearing supporting Ross.
"Joy, I would like to personally apologize to you for leaving the scene of the accident and not showing proper concern for your well-being," Ross said.
During his statement, Ross vowed to pay the restitution he owes Populorum.
"I understand that you had to work three jobs to pay for your car," Ross said. "I will do the right thing and pay for the car that I destroyed."
Populorum didn't believe Ross' apology was sincere.
"I will not accept his apology. He did what he did and deep down in my heart I think it was just to look good in front of his wife," she said. "I will never forgive him. I might forget eventually."
More than six months after the accident, Populorum said her pain has decreased, but still needs therapy for her injuries. However, mentally, she said she suffers anxiety attacks as a result of the crash.
Before the hearing, Ross pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges including fifth and sixth offense drunken driving, multiple counts of bail jumping, drunken driving causing injury and hit and run.
n On the fifth offense drunken driving count Ross was sentenced to two years prison and three years extended supervision.
n On the drunken driving causing injury count Ross received the maximum penalty of three years prison and three years extended supervision.
"As it was recommended by the state and demanded by his record," Race said.
n On the sixth-offense drunken driving case, Ross received the maximum penalty of three years prison and three years extended supervision.
n On the felony hit and run count, Ross received nine months imprisonment, which was the maximum.
n For the three felony bail jumping charges, Race withheld the sentence and placed Ross on a period of probation for three years. The probation period won't begin until after he completes his prison and extended supervision terms.
All of the above sentences run consecutively, and won't begin until after he finishes two year and 10 month probation revocation.
"I was happy with what they gave him," Populorum.