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Village of Park Forest v. Walker





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James A. Condon, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Jack E. Walker, was charged with driving a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, in violation of an ordinance of the village of Park Forest. A jury of six returned a verdict for the plaintiff village and assessed the maximum fine of $500. Judgment was entered on the verdict. The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Court for the First District reversed. (Village of Park Forest v. Walker, 32 Ill. App.3d 210.) We have granted the plaintiff leave to appeal from the judgment of the appellate court.

The plaintiff's primary contention on appeal is that sufficient evidence was introduced at trial to sustain the jury's verdict. In its opinion, the appellate court noted that there were "considerable differences in the testimonies of the witnesses for each of the parties * * *." In light of this, the court concluded that there was "insufficient credible evidence to support the verdict." (32 Ill. App.3d 210, 213.) Since the appellate court reversed without remand, the court necessarily must have determined that, viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the evidence so overwhelmingly favored the defendant that no contrary verdict based upon that evidence could ever stand. (Pedrick v. Peoria and Eastern R.R. Co., 37 Ill.2d 494.) Accordingly, we must review the evidence adduced at trial in order to ascertain the correctness of the appellate court's determination.

The parties are agreed that, at approximately 5:55 p.m. on July 31, 1972, the defendant was driving an automobile on Sauk Trail Road, an east-west highway lying partly within the village of Park Forest. At the area of the occurrence, Sauk Trail Road is a four-lane highway. The defendant was proceeding westward in the inner lane, approaching the intersection of Sauk Trail Road and Orchard Drive. Near the intersection, the defendant's automobile collided with the rear end of a truck driven by William Langford, whose vehicle was also in the inner westbound lane. Langford's truck in turn struck the rear end of an automobile driven by Mrs. Ruth Mussen, who had stopped because of the stop sign located at the corner of Sauk Trail and Orchard. The Mussen automobile, a Ford Mustang, was located immediately in front of the truck driven by Langford. There is no dispute that the area in question is within the confines of the village of Park Forest. Consequently, the only question is whether the defendant was under the influence of intoxicating liquor at the time he was operating his automobile.

A number of the plaintiff's witnesses gave testimony which tended to indicate that the defendant was intoxicated at the scene of the occurrence. An evidence deposition by Ruth Mussen was read to the jury. Mrs. Mussen testified that, after the collision, she walked back to the truck driven by William Langford. Langford pointed to the rear of his truck, whereupon the witness discovered the Cadillac driven by the defendant. Walking over to the open window of the defendant's automobile, she looked in and asked the defendant why he had caused the accident. In response, the defendant just looked at her without saying anything. According to Mrs. Mussen, the defendant was slumped over the wheel and "reeked" of alcohol. She also testified that the defendant was very red-faced, that his shirt was disheveled, and that he seemed to be in a daze. Mrs. Mussen reiterated that the defendant reeked of alcohol and stated that she knew what alcohol smelled like. The witness also saw the defendant carried from his automobile by two police officers and transported to a squad car. Mrs. Mussen confirmed that, in a statement given to the police, she had expressed the opinion that the defendant was in a "very drunken state" at the scene of the occurrence.

William Langford, driver of the truck, testified that, upon leaving his vehicle, he walked to the rear and saw the defendant being helped from his automobile by an officer who then placed the defendant in a squad car. At this time, the witness was standing some 10 feet away from the defendant. He noticed that the defendant's face was very flushed, that his clothes were disarranged, and that he was unsteady as though he couldn't handle himself. Langford testified that he and the fellow occupant of his truck then drove to the police station with the officer and the defendant. During this time, he observed the defendant lying back on the seat, his face flushed and clothes disheveled. Langford also stated that the defendant smelled of alcohol, and based upon his past experience in dealing with various people who were under the influence of alcohol, he formed the opinion that the defendant was "very intoxicated" at the scene of the occurrence.

Barbara Carlson testified that she had been driving an automobile westward on Sauk Trail Road in the outer curb lane. Immediately after the collision, she parked and approached the defendant's automobile. Opening his door, she asked him if he was all right. According to Mrs. Carlson, the defendant responded by uttering a profanity and telling her to leave him alone. At the time, she noticed that the defendant was bleary-eyed, that his eyes were bloodshot, that his speech was slurred, and that he didn't seem to know what was going on. She also detected an odor of alcohol. Based upon her experience working in a hospital and observing people who were under the influence of alcohol on other occasions, Mrs. Carlson was of the opinion that the defendant was "stoned" at the time she observed him on the highway.

Also testifying as to the defendant's condition at the scene of the occurrence was Officer Brent Elliott of the Park Forest Police Department. Upon arriving at the scene a few minutes after the occurrence, he parked and proceeded to check the vehicles involved in the accident, beginning with that of the defendant. The witness observed the defendant seated behind the wheel and leaning slightly to his right. As soon as he walked up to the window of the defendant's vehicle, Officer Elliott detected a strong odor of alcohol. When he asked the defendant to step out of the car, the defendant did not respond. The witness then opened the door, reached in, removed the ignition key and again asked the defendant to step out. When the defendant still did not answer, the officer reached in, removed the defendant, closed the door and then began walking the defendant to the squad car, supporting him under the arm. While proceeding to the squad car, the witness informed the defendant that he was under arrest for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. According to Officer Elliott, when he first viewed the defendant he observed that the defendant's eyes were bloodshot and watery, his face was flushed and very red, his clothes were disarranged, he was very uncoordinated and unable to maintain his balance or direction of travel, and his speech was very slurred and slow. As they walked to the squad car, the defendant swayed from side to side, was very unsteady, didn't seem to realize where they were headed and had to be steered. The officer described the odor of alcohol as strong and very prevalent. He later testified that this odor was on the defendant's breath. While in the squad car, the defendant leaned over with his right shoulder to the door, slouched down, with his head resting partly on the door. Based upon his experience of almost three years on the police force and eight prior years as a naval hospital corpsman, during which time he had occasion to observe people under the influence of alcohol, Officer Elliott expressed the opinion that the defendant was under the influence while at the scene of the occurrence.

Each of the above witnesses testified to making similar observations regarding the defendant's appearance and conduct while at the Park Forest police station. In addition, Sergeant Leroy Lerchen and Officer Fred Bailey testified that, based upon their observation of the defendant at the station, both were of the view that he was under the influence of intoxicating liquor. At the station, Officer Bailey, who had previously directed traffic at the scene of the occurrence, proceeded to administer certain tests designed to measure the defendant's sense of balance, ability to walk a straight line, ability to touch finger to nose, and ability to turn around. According to Officer Bailey, the defendant did not perform any of these tests successfully, despite prior instruction and demonstration as to the procedure to be followed. Officer Elliott, who recorded the results of the tests administered by Officer Bailey, also testified as to the defendant's inability to successfully perform the tests.

In response, the defense produced two witnesses who observed the defendant shortly after the occurrence. Philip Rosenblum testified that he was driving east on Sauk Trail Road when he passed the scene of the occurrence and saw the defendant sitting in his car. The witness thereupon drove around the block, parked his car and returned, only to see the defendant just getting into the squad car. Later, Rosenblum went to the police station and spoke to the defendant for a few minutes. The witness testified that he saw nothing unusual at the time about the defendant's appearance, walk, speech, clothing, or demeanor in general. He smelled no odor of alcohol on the defendant, and in his judgment the defendant was sober.

Emma Jean Hemingway, administrative assistant to the defendant, also testified on his behalf. She went to the Park Forest police station in response to a telephone call from the defendant. Mrs. Hemingway testified that the defendant looked uncomfortable, that he did not have a steady walk due to a prior condition, but that she observed absolutely no odor of alcohol on the defendant's breath and that he was "definitely sober." The witness testified that she arrived at the station at approximately 6:15 p.m. and remained until approximately 7:45 p.m., at which time she left to procure funds for the defendant's bail. According to Mrs. Hemingway, Officer Elliott informed the defendant between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. that he would be charged with driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. She testified that, upon his release, the defendant drove her home in her car.

The defendant also testified on his own behalf. On the day in question, the defendant left his cottage in Crete between 1:45 and 2:15 p.m. and drove to his office. While at his office, he spent 20 or 30 minutes discussing business with Joseph Johnson, a member of the school board. Between 4 and 4:15 p.m., the defendant left his office and drove to a nearby used car lot operated by Clarence Swets. There he met William Marosco, an associate and former classmate, who had come to the lot to look for a new car. After 5 or 10 minutes, the three left to go out to the defendant's cottage in Crete. The defendant wanted Swets to check the tires on his camper. Since he had never seen the defendant's cottage, Marosco decided to accompany them. The three left in separate vehicles and drove to the cottage, where they remained for 30 to 45 minutes. Upon their return, when they reached Sauk Trail Road Marosco turned right going east, and the defendant and Swets proceeded westward. At Western Avenue, a north-south highway, Swets turned right and proceeded north. The defendant continued west on Sauk Trail and, shortly before reaching the Orchard Drive intersection, the accident occurred. The defendant testified that at no time during this period did he consume any alcoholic beverages, nor was he under the influence while operating his vehicle. Johnson, Marosco and Swets had previously testified and given accounts essentially corroborating that of the defendant.

The defendant also denied needing or receiving any assistance from Officer Elliott as the two entered the police station, denied that he was told prior to his arrival at the station that he would be charged with driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and denied he was given any sobriety tests until after Mrs. Hemingway had departed to procure funds for his bail. In these ...

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