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Huddleston v. City of Charleston





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Coles County; the Hon. Joseph R. Spitz, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff Linda Huddleston, special administrator for the estate of Ernest Neal, Jr., appeals the grant, at the close of plaintiff's evidence, of directed verdicts in favor of all defendants. We affirm.

On May 14, 1982, plaintiff's decedent was a passenger on a motorcycle being driven by Robert Hildebrand, who is not a party to this action. Deputy William Powell of the Coles County sheriff's department, driving west on Route 316, observed the motorcycle traveling eastbound at 103 miles per hour. Powell turned in pursuit and informed the sheriff's department. Powell gave chase for over six miles, using his siren and his flashing lights. Powell eventually lost sight of the motorcycle, partially because of traffic.

Deputy Sheriff Donald Jenkins, a defendant here, was also on duty that day. He heard Powell's broadcast and prepared to intercept the motorcycle. Jenkins went to an area on Route 316 near Mounds Cemetery. He parked his car diagonally on Route 316, blocking parts of both lanes. The squad car was just over one-tenth mile east of a curve.

Charleston police officer Henry Pauls, another defendant, also heard the broadcast and proceeded to assist in the chase. He pulled his car onto the south shoulder of Route 316, blocking 2 to 3 feet of the eastbound lane. Pauls' car was 142 to 150 feet east of Jenkins'. When Pauls parked his car, he was informed by police radio that the motorcycle was one-half mile from his location.

As the motorcycle came around the curve, it was traveling approximately 90 miles per hour. The motorcycle passed Jenkins' car, moved into the westbound lane as it neared Pauls' car, veered toward the north, and hit the soft shoulder after it passed Pauls' police car. Hildebrand lost control of the motorcycle, and plaintiff's decedent was thrown from the motorcycle and killed.

Hildebrand stated that he first saw the squad cars as he came out of the curve. The sight of the squad cars "shocked" him. He doesn't remember how he reacted. He only remembers ending up in the ditch.

Plaintiff also introduced the rules and regulations for the Coles County sheriff's department and the city of Charleston police department.

Defendants' joint motion for a directed verdict was successful. The trial judge found that there was no evidence presented as to proximate cause. Plaintiff's post-trial motion was denied. She brings this appeal.

Examining the evidence most favorably to the plaintiff, these facts, though disputed, must be used. Jenkins' car left 5 1/2 feet of roadway in the eastbound lane, the lane used by Hildebrand. Pauls' car left 8 feet of roadway in the eastbound lane and the entire westbound lane. Other pertinent facts, not in dispute, are that Hildebrand constantly exceeded 80 miles per hour except for one brief moment. He traveled along the center line in order to pass while traffic was going in both directions, and did not make an effort to stop or reduce his speed when he came upon Jenkins' car, there was a distance of over one-tenth mile between the curve and Jenkins' car, and that at the estimated speed of 90 miles per hour, Hildebrand covered the distance in 4 1/2 seconds.

Plaintiff, arguing against the grant of the directed verdicts, claims that she created jury questions as to proximate cause, the standard of care, and violations of that standard.

• 1 Plaintiff states the general rule that proximate cause is ordinarily a question for the jury. She cites Brooks v. Lundeen (1977), 49 Ill. App.3d 1, 364 N.E.2d 423, as being almost on point. We find the case clearly distinguishable.

In Brooks, the defendant police officers of the city of Zion had set up a roadblock in order to stop defendant Lundeen, who was fleeing from the city of Waukegan police. As the officers were setting up the roadblock, one officer directed decedent Brooks to park on the edge of the roadway. The officers placed a squad car perpendicular to the flow of traffic, between Brooks and the oncoming Lundeen. Lundeen was traveling along the center of the roadway at over 90 miles per hour. The car veered around the squad car and ran head on into Brooks' parked car, killing Brooks.

The city and the officers were found liable for Brooks' death. On appeal, they argued that Lundeen's actions were the sole proximate cause of the collision. The court held that the proximate-cause issue was whether the officers' placing Brooks where they did in relation to the roadblock, without warning him, resulted in the reasonably ...

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