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Man confesses to hit-and-run victim’s family, officials say

By Deanese Williams-Harris, Jack McCarthy, Steven Schmadeke and Becky Schlikerman – Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — A Naperville, Ill., man charged with a fatal hit-and-run accident from 2008 told police he now has a “clear conscience” after confessing to the family of the 20-year-old woman he struck and killed, according to prosecutors.

David McCarthy, 27, is charged with hitting Melissa Lech in the early morning hours of Aug. 7 in Joliet, Ill. He told the family he stopped, but then drove off after others came onto the scene even though he knew the woman was seriously hurt, prosecutors said.

Lech later died, and no charges were filed in the case until McCarthy showed up at the home of Lech’s sister on Sunday morning and confessed. Even then, McCarthy told Michelle Lech that he did not plan to go to the police.

So the Lechs got his license plate number and police tracked the 27-year-old McCarthy to his Naperville home, where he was arrested. A judge ordered him held on $1 million bail after a brief hearing Monday afternoon.

McCarthy told authorities he decided to admit to the hit-and-run to unburden himself. “I needed to say what I needed to say,” McCarthy said, according to prosecutor Mary Fillipitch. “I have a clear conscience.”

McCarthy arrived at Michelle Lech’s home around 9 a.m. Sunday. Lech said she was wary when the stranger rang her doorbell and asked to speak with her.

McCarthy wouldn’t say why he was there until Lech invited him in. Sitting down, he calmly confessed to being behind the wheel of the car that struck and killed Lech’s in Joliet in the summer of 2008. “He said he struck and ran over her,” Lech said.

While McCarthy said he felt guilty, Lech said he never apologized. “He didn’t even tell me he was sorry.” After about 10 minutes, she said, McCarthy said “I think I should go” and left.

Lech followed him to the door. After he was gone, she called a detective who had been working for years on the case. The detective was able to locate McCarthy in Naperville, based on the license plate the Lechs had taken down, according to Joliet Police Cmdr. Brian Benton.

Police picked up McCarthy at this home, Benton said. McCarthy told police his conscience was clear now that he had talked to the family, authorities said.

Before he could be questioned further, McCarthy said he wanted to talk to a lawyer and was taken into custody. He was charged with causing personal injury and leaving the scene of an accident causing a death.

This was not McCarthy’s first arrest. He was charged with DUI in March 2010, about a year and a half after the hit-and-run, and later pleaded guilty to reckless driving. And he was ordered to undergo counseling for substance abuse and mental health issues after a domestic battery arrest in 2009, according to court records.

The hit-and-run accident occurred in early August 2008. Melissa Lech, a University of Illinois student, had attended a White Sox game on the evening of Aug. 5, then accompanied friends to a Joliet restaurant. She left alone in the early hours of Aug. 6 and was struck while walking.

Michelle Lech said McCarthy’s confession brings little comfort to her family, who keep regular vigils at a memorial to Melissa Lech. “She was just 20 when she was killed.”

McCarthy’s father, Naperville attorney David McCarthy, said his son never told the family he was involved in the fatal crash. After police arrested the younger McCarthy at the family’s home Sunday afternoon, the family searched the Internet to try and figure out what crash he was being arrested for, McCarthy said in a brief interview.

McCarthy said he and his family were “deeply distressed” by the hit-and-run allegations and sympathetic towards the victim’s family.

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