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Wonder Lake woman testifies to finding son after fatal overdose on Christmas Eve 2019: ‘I knew he was gone’

A mother broke down in tears on the stand Tuesday morning as she described for a McHenry County jury finding her 31-year-old son dead from a drug overdose the morning of Christmas Eve 2019.

Aimee Jones, of Wonder Lake, testified at the trial of Eric Williams, 42, of Rockford, who is charged with Class X felony drug-induced homicide. If convicted, Williams faces six to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors allege Williams sold Jones’ son, Steffen Darnick, a fatal dose of heroin and cocaine on Dec. 22, the day after Darnick came home from a 90-day stay in a drug rehabilitation facility in Arizona.

Jones said she went into his bedroom at about 10:30 a.m. Dec. 24, 2019, because she heard his 10-month old daughter crying in the crib next to the bed where he was. She walked in and found him lying face up, slightly diagonal across the bed.

She said she “smacked his foot” to wake him up but “he didn’t move.” She then realized he wasn’t breathing. She walked to the other side of the bed and saw his face.

“I knew he was gone,” she said, breaking down into tears.

Two of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to the 911 call testified that when they came to the home, they found crack pipes and small baggies with residue in them located in a lunch box-type cooler next to the bed Darnick was in.

In February, when Jones was cleaning the room out, she found a vape pen and a dollar bill folded up in a dresser drawer in the bedroom and inside was a powdery substance. She called detectives and it was determined the powdery substance was crack cocaine, she said. Darnick’s wife, Jacqueline Darnick, later testified that he would keep crack cocaine in a dollar bill and snort it throughout the day.

Jones said she noticed her son, the oldest of her three boys, was addicted to marijuana as a teenager. After being injured and prescribed opioids, a prescription the doctor then stopped prescribing, she saw her son turn to heroin in his 20s.

She said she tried to help him by assisting him to detox, tough love and then a rehabilitation facility.

Darnick lived in Belvidere with his wife and three children prior to going to rehab.

When he flew home Dec. 21, 2019, his parents picked him up at the airport and he went to live at their Wonder Lake home, his mother testified. Jones said Darnick told her that in rehab he was told he needed to pay off any debts to any drug dealers to protect his family.

The next day, with Darnick’s three children, Jones drove her son to Rockford with the understanding he was going to pay a debt to a drug dealer. They stopped at a bank in Rockford, she took some money out of an ATM, gave it to him and then drove into a nearby parking lot.

Her son got out of the car and she took his three children to a nearby Wendy’s restaurant for lunch. She said he walked out of her sight. She did not see who he met with.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, he walked into the Wendy’s and they all returned to Wonder Lake.

On Dec. 22, 2019, Darnick spent time with his younger brother Dakota Tippet, helping him work on a home he bought in Wonder Lake. The evening of Dec. 23, 2019, Jones, her husband, along with Tippet, his girlfriend, their three children and Darnick’s two older children all attended a Christmas party. Darnick stayed at his parents’ home with his 10-month-old baby. Jones said they returned home about 2 a.m. and she did not see her son again until later that morning after he had died.

In earlier testimony Jones said, before her son came home she thoroughly cleaned the bedroom Darnick was staying and no drugs or drug paraphernalia were in the room. She also checked his luggage for any drugs or drug paraphernalia and found nothing, she said.

Jones and other family members testified Tuesday that Darnick had no access to cash or a vehicle and did not go anywhere on his own in the couple of days leading up to his death. No one, outside of the family members who lived in the Wonder Lake home, including Tippet, his girlfriend and their young children, came to the house except for Darnick’s estranged wife.

Jacqueline Darnick testified that she and her husband had been estranged because of his drug addiction to heroin and crack cocaine.

“He was an everyday user before rehab,” she said.

Still, she wanted their children to see their father for a Christmas visit and so she brought them to Jones’ house the day he returned from Arizona.

She said she also brought along items that Darnick asked her to bring, including some clothes, a cooler he is known to keep medications in, and some bongs and pipes he had “collected over time.” She also said she saw no drugs inside the cooler when she brought it over.

She did not bring any drugs to the house and does not partake in drug use, she testified.

On cross examination by William’s attorney Hal Garfinkle, Jones agreed that “an abundance” of drugs and drug paraphernalia was found in his room after he died. But, she said, it was not there when she cleaned the room before bringing him home from the airport.

Jones also agreed with Garfinkle that her son had another side to him she knew nothing about. Garfinkle said she wouldn’t know if and when he was buying heroin and cocaine and whether he had many drug dealers, to which she agreed.

However, Jones, Tippet and Jacquelin Darnick each testified that while he may have had other drug dealers, he always bought his cocaine and heroin in Rockford.

“I know he was in Rockford whenever he bought drugs,” Jacqueline Darnick said in a back-and-forth with Garfinkle that became heated, prompting Judge Robert Wilbrandt to interrupt the cross-examination.

Jacqueline Darnick, who had been with Darnick since 2006, said she often drove with her husband to Rockford from their home in Belvidere to buy heroin and crack cocaine. She worried about him ingesting the drugs and driving because he would fall asleep and she “wanted to keep him safe.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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