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People v. Gutierrez





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Boone County; the Hon. DAVID R. BABB, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Carlos Gutierrez, was convicted in a consolidated bench trial of the felony of leaving the scene of a vehicular accident involving death (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-401) and of several misdemeanor charges for driving on a suspended license. In his appeal he contends that the information was insufficient to charge the felony. Alternatively he contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that the sentences were excessive.

At approximately 7:20 a.m. on December 23, 1979, Catherine Drozynski left her parent's home, to go jogging. At 8:30 a.m., her body was discovered in a ditch along Shaw Road, in Boone County. The cause of death was later attributed to head and pelvic injuries, consistent with an automobile collision.

Police who were called to the scene noted that weather conditions had been very foggy that morning. A number of passersby had congregated at the scene, but no one identified himself to police, as having been involved in the accident.

Investigating officers discovered a set of vehicular tracks, composed of mud or mud-type gravel, which proceeded on and off the highway near the accident site. Evidence was presented, without objection, which linked the muddy tracks with the vehicle involved in the accident. The tracks were traced, on and off the highway surface, to a short distance up the road from the accident site. There, the vehicle apparently left the road, and made a 180-degree turn, back toward the site. The tracks could not be traced from that point, due to the distortion caused by other vehicles.

There was evidence that no one had reported to the Boone County Sheriff or to any other authority in the area within 48 hours of the accident, to identify himself as the driver of the hit-and-run vehicle.

A length of car antenna, and its black plastic base was found near the victim. Automotive paint fragments were removed from the victim's clothing. This indicated to police that the hit-and-run vehicle could be a "greenish-gold" car, missing its radio antenna. An officer on routine patrol located such a vehicle parked near the apartment complex where defendant lived.

Officers subsequently spoke with defendant, who admitted ownership of the car. Defendant was interviewed by a Spanish-speaking officer on December 26, 1979, after he was apprised of his rights. He told police that his Buick had not been moved over the weekend of December 23. When asked about the car's missing antenna, defendant explained that he had recently installed a tape player in his car. Because his radio did not work, and the antenna wasn't necessary to the operation of the tape deck, defendant removed the antenna and threw it in the city dump. Defendant told police that the dents in his front fender were old, and were perhaps caused when he changed a tire. Police officers testified that the paint was chipped on top of the car's front right fender. The metal was exposed and shiny — indicating a recent collision.

When asked about his whereabouts, defendant responded that he had been at a party in the early morning of December 23, at a friend's apartment within the complex. He walked home, because his child was sick, and remained at his apartment thereafter. Defendant insisted that his Buick had not been used. When informed that the police sought to impound the car, defendant told police, "Go ahead and take the car because I didn't do anything wrong. I know the car wasn't used and if you guys want to take the car go ahead."

Laboratory examination revealed that the section of car antenna and plastic base found at the accident scene matched the remnants of the antenna recovered from the Buick. Analysis revealed that the paint chips taken from the victim's clothing matched samples taken from the Buick. Fibers obtained from the grille of the Buick matched fibers taken from the victim's sweatpants. Finally, a pattern impressed on the Buick's right front headlight housing was similar to the elastic pattern of the lower band of the victim's sweatshirt.

Defendant was again interviewed by a Spanish-speaking officer on January 2, 1980. Police asked him if a friend, or his wife could have driven the car. Defendant responded that he had the only keys to the car, and he had kept them in his possession during the time in question. Defendant was then confronted with the lab results. Nonetheless, defendant persisted in his prior explanations. Defendant was thereafter placed under arrest, and taken into custody. An Illinois Secretary of State driver's abstract later revealed that defendant's driver's license had been suspended between March 12, 1976, and March 12, 1980.

Two witnesses testified on defendant's behalf. Uraulae Romo testified that he drank beer with defendant until 2 a.m. on December 23, 1979. At that time, defendant's wife telephoned, and asked defendant to come home because their child was sick. Defendant finished his beer, and then went to his apartment (which was located within the same complex). Defendant was described as "a little bit drunk" when he left.

Defendant's wife, Karen Gutierrez, testified that she telephoned her husband at Romo's apartment, and asked him to come home because their child was sick. Defendant came home between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Karen went to sleep between 3:30 and 4 a.m., and got up once during the night to bottle her baby. She testified that defendant was in the apartment at those times, as well as when she arose at 10 a.m. She indicated that she was a light sleeper, and would have been awakened had defendant arisen during the night.

The trial court found the defendant guilty of all charges. Following a sentencing hearing, defendant was sentenced to serve 3 years' imprisonment on the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, to run concurrent with a 364-day term on each misdemeanor charge. The sentences, however, were to run consecutive "to any sentence heretofore imposed by any Court of the ...

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