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People v. Farris





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Coles County; the Hon. THOMAS M. BURKE, Judge, presiding.


Defendant was found guilty by a jury in the circuit court of Coles County of two offenses of reckless homicide in violation of section 9-3(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a)), and one offense of failure to report an accident resulting in personal injuries in violation of section 11-401(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-401(b)). He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 1 to 3 years' imprisonment. This appeal followed. We affirm.

In the late evening hours of October 21, 1977, on North 33rd Street in Mattoon, two young women riding in a Volkswagen were killed when their Volkswagen was struck in the rear by a 1973 Lincoln. Testimony and pathological reports showed that neither was under the influence of drugs nor alcohol, and that the Volkswagen was in good operating condition.

An occurrence witness, Adams, testified that she was southbound on North 33rd Street at the time of the incident. The street was a two-lane, paved road. She first observed four sets of headlights in the northbound lane and then some sparks, which led to her belief that the second car in the line had been struck by the third one. The second car appeared to be spinning and on fire. The impact occurred on the east side (northbound) of the road; the second car "shot off into the field" on the east side of the road.

Adams arrived at the scene about one minute later and observed a Volkswagen in the field about 30 feet from the road, with a large car resting against its rear end. A station wagon was stopped on the east side of the road facing north and soon afterwards another car arrived from the north and parked on the west side of the road. Some men on the passenger side of the large car were attempting to assist someone named Frank out of the large car. Someone from the car on the west side of the road began running toward the wreck calling to Frank. Adams repeatedly asked the men if they wanted an ambulance and they yelled no. She then went on into town and reported the accident.

Several law enforcement officers and the coroner testified for the State. They found no one in the Lincoln which was imbedded in the rear of the Volkswagen but they did find beer cans, a bottle of liquor and a can of 7-Up, on the passenger side of the automobile. A strong odor of alcohol emanated from the car. One of them measured 275 feet of skid marks on the road from their beginning to the point at which they left the road; 100 feet of these marks were in the northbound lane. The posted speed limit in the area was 55 mph.

The coroner testified that he found two young women dead in the Volkswagen. He also examined the vehicle and found that the rear seat was broken loose from the frame of the car and that the mountings for the front seat had likewise broken. He, too, found beer cans, a liquor bottle and a 7-Up can in the same place in the Lincoln, together with the strong odor of alcohol.

One of the law enforcement officers interviewed the defendant on the night of the incident. Defendant denied driving the Lincoln, claimed he remembered nothing of the accident and further claimed he was in the back seat when the accident occurred.

Three witnesses who were involved in the events leading up to the accident, and in the accident itself, testified for the State. They were Larry Graham, Rick Ruegger and Patrick Scott. While some difference in detail and in recollection occurs in the course of their testimony, the general outline remains the same. In summary, it is as follows:

Defendant ran a garage and Graham, Ruegger and Scott, together with Frank Hale, were all present at the garage on the evening of October 21 working on their cars. Graham owned a Chrysler, Scott an Oldsmobile and Hale the Lincoln. Defendant was working on Hale's Lincoln. In the course of the evening, Graham and Ruegger went to a liquor store and obtained beer and liquor. All of them were drinking at the garage but opinions differed as to the extent of anyone's intoxication, if any. Scott testified that defendant was intoxicated when they left the garage.

A discussion started concerning the speeds of the Chrysler and the Oldsmobile and eventually Graham and Scott agreed to drag race with their cars. Scott testified that defendant offered a bet on Graham. All parties left the garage, Graham in his Chrysler with defendant's son as a passenger, Scott in his Oldsmobile and defendant, Hale and Ruegger in Hale's Lincoln with defendant driving.

All cars proceeded to North 33rd Street. Graham in his Chrysler pulled into the left (southbound) lane and Scott, in his Oldsmobile remained in the right (northbound) lane, with the Lincoln following Scott. The Chrysler and the Oldsmobile then drag raced for about a quarter of a mile at speeds of 55 to 60 mph. Scott in the right lane won the race and Graham in the left lane slowed down and re-entered the right lane behind Scott. All agreed that the Lincoln did not participate in the race and was following the other vehicles.

Hale in the Lincoln then wanted to see how fast his car would go, so defendant pulled into the left lane and accelerated and passed both Graham and Scott. Opinions as to its speed and location differed somewhat. Scott and Ruegger said that it passed on the left, Graham that it passed on the right; Graham estimated its speed at 60 mph; Scott testified that it "flew." All agreed that it then struck the Volkswagen which none had seen theretofore.

Following the impact and when the vehicles had come to rest in the field, Graham went over to them and opened the left door of the Lincoln. He testified that defendant fell out of this door; that Hale was under the dashboard in the front; that Ruegger climbed over the front seat and left the car through the left rear door. Graham then took Ruegger, Hale and Scott, who had arrived in the meanwhile, to a hospital. No one testified as to how defendant left the scene, only that they saw him there immediately following the crash.

According to their testimony, both Scott and Ruegger were on parole at the time of the accident and each knew that he should not associate with the other. Ruegger's parole had not been revoked and he denied that there was any agreement on this subject in return for his testimony. He likewise denied he had been offered any reward for the testimony.

Scott pleaded guilty to drag racing in return for his testimony. He paid $30 in costs, lost his driver's license and spent six weekends in jail. He denied any agreement with the State, but believed his parole would not be revoked. He claimed his testimony was truthful and not concocted as part of an agreement.

Such is a summary of the evidence relating to the reckless homicide charges. Further facts as needed for clarity will be set forth later in this opinion. As to the other charge of failing to report an accident resulting in personal injuries, testimony was received from the sheriff of Coles County and the assistant chief of Mattoon police. Each testified that he was the keeper of the records of the respective departments. Objection was sustained to their statements that defendant had made no report of the accident. However, each testified without objection that no such report was found in the files of their departments.

Defendant has raised a variety of issues on appeal. We deal with each of these separately and seriatim.


• 1 Defendant argues that the counts in the information relating to reckless homicide are defective because they fail to allege the requisite mental state and at most charge only negligent conduct. He points specifically to the language alleging that he re-entered the northbound lane of traffic "without first ascertaining whether such movement could be made * * *" safely. We do not agree.

Both counts allege that defendant operated a motor vehicle recklessly and caused the deaths of the young women, naming the specific time and place. This is sufficient to charge the offense. (People v. Callaham (1978), 60 Ill. App.3d 1020, 377 N.E.2d 171.) The quoted language merely gives the defendant further detail and is neither required nor part ...

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