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People v. Gittings





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Edward M. Fiala, Jr., Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Brian Gittings, was charged with reckless homicide (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a)). Following a bench trial, the defendant was found guilty and was sentenced to a prison term of one year. Defendant appeals his conviction contending that (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because (a) there was no evidence that defendant drove his vehicle in a reckless manner and (b) the death of the victim, Richard Thompson, was the result of an intervening cause; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing the defendant to a one-year prison term in light of mitigative circumstances. We affirm.

At trial, Mark Thompson, the victim's brother, testified that he last saw his brother at 7 p.m. on March 6, 1982. At that time, the victim and the defendant, who were close friends, stopped by the Suburban Medical Center in Hoffman Estates to visit with the witness and his wife and to see their newborn baby. Mark noticed that the defendant's speech was slurred and that the victim stuttered and weaved as he walked. The defendant told Mark that they had been to a boat show and then had gone drinking at a bar called the Assembly, also in Hoffman Estates. The witness, a former bartender, stated that both men were intoxicated. Before the two men left the hospital to return to the Assembly, the defendant told Mark that he, and not the victim, would be driving. The two left the hospital about 7:30 p.m.

Defendant later told Officer Edgar Fair that the two men returned to the Assembly for drinks. After leaving the bar around 8:30 p.m., the defendant set out to drive the victim to his home in Lake in the Hills. He drove westbound on Route 62 and turned right onto Sutton Road just prior to the accident.

At approximately 9 p.m., Officer Gary Dembek of the Barrington Hills Police Department was traveling eastbound on Route 62. His radar registered a vehicle moving at 69 miles per hour in this 55-mile-per-hour zone. The vehicle's speed increased to 71 miles per hour. Dembek activated the red lights on top of his vehicle and turned around to pursue the speeding vehicle. He followed the vehicle as it turned right onto Sutton Road at a faster than normal speed. This portion of Sutton Road has several small hills and several curves. Once on Sutton Road, the vehicle was one-eighth mile ahead of Dembek's vehicle. The vehicle then accelerated, in Dembek's opinion, to a speed in excess of 80 to 85 miles per hour. At this point, he lost sight of the vehicle. As he continued to pursue the vehicle, Dembek's speed on the curves was 60 to 65 miles per hour and on the straight portion of the road was 85 to 90 miles per hour.

Dembek observed small tree branches lying in the roadway at one point. Upon reaching the place where Sutton Road dead-ends, he stopped and returned to the area where the tree branches were down. He estimated that approximately a minute and a half elapsed from the time he first saw the branches in the road until he returned to where they had fallen. When he went back to this spot, he saw a vehicle in a ravine 20 feet below the road. He found the victim lying with his feet on the passenger side of the vehicle and the remainder of his body lying on the ground outside the vehicle. The victim was unconscious and was gasping for breath. The vehicle appeared to be the same vehicle that the officer had been pursuing.

About 11 p.m., Dembek returned to the accident site and observed a set of footprints leading away from the site. There were no road defects or obstructions in the road in this area. The speed limit near the accident site was 35 miles per hour with a 20-mile-per-hour cautionary speed limit on the curves. On cross-examination, Dembek stated that when the vehicle he was following passed him on Route 62, he noticed that it was a full-sized vehicle with square taillights. Sutton Road was unlit that night except for his own headlights. There were no other vehicles on the road at the time.

At 2:30 a.m. on March 7, Officer Fair and a Deputy Sanders went to the defendant's residence. The defendant had small cuts and scratches all over his body and his nose appeared to be broken. Upon Fair's request, the defendant produced the clothes he had worn the night before. His trousers and tennis shoes were wet. Both his jacket and trousers had small tears all over them. The front of defendant's jacket was smeared with what appeared to be blood. Fair read the defendant the Miranda warnings. Defendant then told Fair and Sanders that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. He did not see the red lights on Officer Dembek's vehicle. After the accident, the defendant left the scene, ran through the fields to the highway and hitchhiked home. He fled the scene because he was scared.

Dr. Benjamin LeCompte first saw the victim in the emergency room following the accident. The victim was unconscious but responded to painful stimulation of his extremities. According to Dr. LeCompte, the victim suffered a severe brain stem contusion and a cortical infarction, or stroke, on the left side of his brain. He stated that a high-speed motor vehicle accident could cause these injuries. When the victim was discharged from the hospital, he did not respond to his environment and could not function by himself without nursing care. After his discharge, the victim was admitted to a Veterans Administration Hospital.

On June 25, the victim entered a nursing home where he died on July 17. Dr. LeCompte stated that the pulmonary embolus, or blood clot of the pulmonary artery, which caused the victim's death resulted from prolonged immobilization and chronic bed rest. The immobilization and bed rest were the result of the brain injuries the victim sustained. The nursing home records did not disclose whether the victim was turned regularly to prevent clotting. According to Dr. LeCompte, however, even if a patient receives the best nursing care, a pulmonary embolism may still occur.

Dr. Mitra Kalelkar, Cook County Medical Examiner, testified that an internal examination of the victim disclosed that he had suffered blunt trauma about the head. Due to this trauma, the victim developed cortical contusions on the left side of his brain. The cause of death, however, was a massive pulmonary embolism complicated by craniocerebral injuries. The embolism was caused by the sluggish circulation of blood in the victim's system.

Judith Dincher, a registered nurse, testified on the defendant's behalf. She stated that certain medications or immobility can cause blood clots to form. Dincher described a pulmonary embolism as a classic complication of immobility. Patients such as the victim require frequent change of position to improve circulation. If the victim did not receive this care, it is possible that blood clots could have formed. The proper level of nursing care can reduce the likelihood that clotting will occur. Clotting is not inevitable, however, simply because a patient is immobile.

After reviewing the evidence, the court found the defendant guilty of reckless homicide. The court sentenced the defendant to a ...

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