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People v. Evans

OPINION FILED MAY 8, 1984.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

MICHAEL EVANS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Dwight McKay, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Michael Evans, appeals from his conviction after a bench trial of three counts of reckless homicide. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a).) The sentence imposed was 30 months' probation with the special condition that defendant serve the first six months, as well as the weekends of the final 90 days, in the Cook County Department of Corrections. Defendant contends on review that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the special condition of his probation.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. on March 24, 1982, Catherine Campbell was waiting in her Ford van for the traffic light to change at the intersection of 159th and Torrence Avenue in Calumet City, Illinois. Campbell's vehicle was facing north, occupying the east-center lane of northbound Torrence Avenue. That part of Torrence Avenue at which she was stopped, immediately south of the intersection, consists of four lanes. There is a lane for turning left onto 159th Street so as to proceed west; there are two center lanes for continuing north on Torrence Avenue; and there is a fourth lane for either turning right onto 159th Street so as to proceed east, or for continuing north and eventually merging with the east-center lane of Torrence Avenue.

While Campbell waited for the traffic light to turn green, she noticed a blue Plymouth automobile pull up immediately next to her in the west-center, northbound lane of Torrence Avenue. This car, containing four people, was being driven by defendant. At that same time, Campbell observed a white Plymouth automobile pull up immediately next to her on the other side of her van, occupying what was the fourth or far east lane of northbound Torrence Avenue. This vehicle, also containing four people, was being driven by the co-defendant in the trial below, John Best. Just before the traffic signal changed green, Campbell noticed that both cars on each side of her were inching forward to a point beyond the painted traffic line delineating the southern boundary of the intersection. As soon as the light turned green, the vehicles driven by defendant and Best accelerated at a high rate of speed. Campbell accelerated at a slower rate of speed but, within seconds, she had to "back-off" since Best immediately began to merge into the east-center lane as he drove through the intersection heading north.

Campbell then observed the two cars proceed north up Torrence Avenue, side-by-side, toward Michigan City Road. *fn1 The particular stretch of road on which defendant and Best were driving that night was asphalt-paved and "a little bumpy." The area itself was characterized as very dark at the time in question. According to two Calumet City police officers, on March 24, 1982, the posted speed limit along that portion of Torrence Avenue was either 40 or 45 miles per hour. Campbell estimated that the speeds of the two cars driving ahead of her were between 65 and 70 miles per hour; whereas, Diane Dougall, a passenger in defendant's car, estimated that defendant's speed reached "55, or maybe more."

Since it was night, Campbell eventually lost sight of both vehicles except for their taillights. Soon thereafter, by viewing the position of the respective taillights of each car less than one-half of a mile away, she noticed that defendant's vehicle veered over into the lane occupied by Best's car. About three or four seconds later, as Campbell arrived "to abouts where the tail lights [sic] went into one lane," she observed Best's car smoking as it appeared to be hooked to a green car in the southbound lanes of Torrence Avenue, approximately one-half mile north of 159th Street.

George Zorich was driving south on Torrence Avenue at approximately 9:30 p.m. on March 24, 1982. At some point south of Michigan City Road, he saw Best's car come across from the northbound lanes of Torrence Avenue directly into the southbound lanes and collide with a blue Chevrolet, being driven by Sherry Kassee, as it was proceeding south approximately four car lengths in front of Zorich. Following the collision with Kassee's car, Best's automobile became airborne and struck Zorich's vehicle on the hood. Another car, heading south on Torrence Avenue, then collided with Zorich's vehicle from behind.

Officer Peter Miller of the Calumet City police department was dispatched to the scene of the accident that night. Upon his arrival, he observed that Kassee's car, which faced west across the innermost southbound lane of Torrence Avenue, had extensive front-end damage. He then saw that Best's vehicle, which faced south in the outermost southbound lane of Torrence Avenue, had very heavy rear-end and right side damage. The car left skid marks, measuring 150 feet in length, which extended across the median from the northbound lanes into the southbound lanes of Torrence Avenue. As Officer Miller approached Best's vehicle, he observed the body of Patricia Koerner, who had been riding as a passenger in the car, pinned in the back seat. The officer thereafter found the body of Ronald Gibbs, another passenger in the Best vehicle, lying in a wooded area nearby. Sherry Kassee also died as a result of injuries sustained when her car was struck by Best's vehicle.

An April 1982 grand jury charged defendant and John Best each with three counts of reckless homicide. Following a joint bench trial, the trial court found both offenders guilty as charged. Defendant's culpability was premised on the court's belief that "[defendant] blocked the progress forward of the Best vehicle * * * [and] that Best had to take evasive action of some kind." At the sentencing hearing, following arguments presented in aggravation and mitigation, the trial judge sentenced co-defendant Best to a term of 30 months' probation under the jurisdiction of the adult probation department of Cook County. A special condition of periodic imprisonment was imposed with the option of serving such term in the Lake County, Indiana, jail if it could be arranged. *fn2

Regarding defendant, the court first ordered him to surrender his driver's license so that it could be forwarded to the Illinois Secretary of State for revocation. Defendant was then ordered to serve 30 months' probation under the jurisdiction of the adult probation department of Cook County. As a special condition, defendant was further ordered to serve the first six months, as well as the weekends of the final 90 days, of the probation period in the Cook County Department of Corrections. From the orders of conviction and sentence, defendant now appeals.

I

Initially, defendant argues that the evidence adduced at the instant trial failed to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We disagree.

In Illinois, a person commits reckless homicide if, while driving a motor vehicle, he unintentionally kills an individual and the acts which caused death are performed recklessly so as to create a likelihood of death or great bodily harm to some person. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a).) "A person acts recklessly in this regard when he consciously disregards a substantial and an unjustifiable risk that his acts are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual and where such disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in such a situation." (People v. Bonzi (1978), 65 Ill. App.3d 927, 931, 382 N.E.2d 1300, appeal denied (1979), 74 Ill.2d 587; see generally Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 4-6.) Criminal liability attaches only to acts of such a reckless or wanton character as to be indicative of an utter disregard for the safety of others under circumstances likely to result in injury. (People v. Petersen (1982), 110 Ill. App.3d 647, 659, 442 N.E.2d 941.) The reckless conduct must be wilful and wanton. People v. LaCombe (1982), 104 Ill. App.3d 66, 72, 432 N.E.2d 672, appeal denied (1982), 91 Ill.2d 576.

• 1 It is defendant's position that the evidence proffered by the State failed to prove that his conduct was the actual and legal cause of the offense for which he was charged and convicted. It is, of course, clear that defendant's Plymouth automobile was not directly involved in the multivehicle collision which resulted in three fatalities on the night of March 24, 1982. Indeed, defendant's overt acts at the time in question were limited to operating his car at an excessive rate of speed, and veering into the east lane of northbound Torrence Avenue in front of Best's car. In order to secure defendant's reckless homicide conviction, it was therefore necessary for the State to prove that he was legally accountable for the deaths of the three motorists. One may be held accountable for the acts of another without having actively participated in ...


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