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People v. Hawn





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD J. PETRARCA, Judge, presiding.


After a jury trial, Thomas Hawn (defendant) was found guilty of reckless homicide (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a)). He was placed on probation for 30 months with periods of work release. A previous jury had been unable to agree upon a verdict. Defendant appeals.

In this court, defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; the trial court erroneously permitted evidence of defendant's consumption of alcoholic beverages without proof of intoxication; the closing argument of the State was improper and prejudicial and the trial judge erred in instructing the jury. Under the view we take, the first contention is dispositive and the remaining points need not be considered.

A full factual statement is required. After study of the record, we are convinced that a proper statement of the pertinent facts, in correct chronological order, is best commenced with a summary of defendant's testimony.

Defendant testified that on April 13, 1979, he spent 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the evening playing pool with James Vanek. Defendant stated he drank three 12-ounce bottles of beer over this period. Shortly before 9 o'clock they entered defendant's car, a 1973 Oldsmobile. Defendant was driving to the home of a friend who lived in the area of 119th Street and Ridgeway Avenue. Defendant had known Vanek for some 5 years. Defendant was 22 years old.

The defendant drove in a northerly direction on Kedzie Avenue. He stopped for a traffic light at 119th Street, a two-lane road. When the light changed, defendant made a left turn and drove west on 119th Street. Driving west on 119th Street there is a hill or incline. In fact, 119th Street in that area was described as "hilly." The grade goes up from Kedzie to Central Park, a north-south street. The area is rather poorly lighted with only one street light on every other utility pole. The speed limit there is 35 miles per hour.

The south side of 119th Street borders upon a cemetery. On the north side there is a trailer court west of Kedzie but some distance north of 119th Street. Also on the north side and farther to the west, there is a small industrial shop and some work buildings. No public places in the area were open at that time.

Defendant testified he continued driving west on 119th Street at about 35 miles per hour. A small car traveling east swerved into his lane. The cars collided violently. Defendant's head struck the windshield with force sufficient to cause a cracked windshield. He took his foot up from the accelerator, and his car slowed down. He turned his head and saw this other vehicle continue east through the intersection of 119th and Kedzie. Defendant's car was pulling to the left, and he could feel the front wheel rubbing against the left front fender. He saw that his car had swerved over into the eastbound or southern portion of 119th Street. He had extreme difficulty in attempting to pull his car back into the westbound lane. He saw headlights coming over the hill from an eastbound car. There was a collision which rendered him unconscious.

Defendant estimated one-half minute passed between these two collisions. He was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a fractured rib and his head was X-rayed. Defendant testified, "I was stunned from the time I got hit first to the time I got into the hospital."

James Vanek, passenger in defendant's car, testified defendant was "driving fine" until the collision with the first car. Vanek was thrown violently forward, struck his head on the dashboard and became unconscious.

It is undisputed that a Pontiac Firebird automobile was then being driven in an easterly direction on 119th Street. The driver was Tony Halper. A young man named Santo Messina, Jr., was in the front passenger seat, and Annette Fabian, a high school student, was in the rear seat. These two automobiles collided with considerable force. As a result, Santo Messina, Jr., the passenger, was mortally injured.

There was considerable police testimony. After receiving a radio call, Officer Hurckes went to the site. He saw wreckage about 50 to 100 feet west of the intersection of Kedzie Avenue and 119th Street. On 119th, about 450 feet east of Central Park the officer observed the Oldsmobile and the Pontiac. The Oldsmobile, defendant's car, was standing across 119th Street facing south. The middle of the car was about over the center line of 119th Street. The Pontiac was found on the north shoulder off of the road. The officer noted "minimum glass debris" in this area. Defendant told Officer Hurckes he was the driver of the car and he had been hurt. Defendant was taken to the hospital. After Miranda warnings, defendant told the officer he had four bottles of beer prior to the occurrence. Without objection defendant submitted to a blood test. For reasons not disclosed by the record, the results of the test are unknown.

The officer testified a person named James Lawler had been arrested by the police of Blue Island, an adjacent suburb. The officer spoke to Lawler who was in the hospital. The officer issued traffic citations to Lawler. The officer also testified he noted in his report that the headlights on defendant's car had been damaged by a collision with Lawler's car.

Officer Troglia had experience in accident reconstruction some 50 or 60 times. He found scrape marks on the roadway. He found evidence of an automobile collision in the north or eastbound lane of ...

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