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People v. Stropoli

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 4, 1986.

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

v.

MICHAEL W. STROPOLI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. Edwin Bart, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE NASH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 25, 1986.

After a jury trial defendant, Michael W. Stropoli, was convicted of reckless driving (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-503) and sentenced to six months of court supervision and fined $50. He appeals, contending (1) the court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to charge the necessary elements of reckless driving; (2) he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the court erred in refusing to give defendant's tendered jury instructions; and (4) the court violated defendant's right to be present at all proceedings when it responded to jury questions outside the presence of defendant and his counsel.

On October 11, 1984, defendant, a 17-year-old high school student, was driving his father's automobile westbound on Raven Lane when he approached a dead-end intersection with Thrasher Drive in a residential subdivision of Bloomingdale. Mrs. Janice Schumacher, who was doing yardwork outside her home, located at the southeast corner of the intersection, heard defendant's tires squealing and then saw defendant stop at the intersection. Cora Schumacher, her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, was standing on a neighbor's front lawn on the northeast corner of the intersection approximately 10 feet north of Raven Lane.

Mrs. Schumacher testified defendant backed up a distance of approximately six car lengths at a fast rate while squealing his tires. Defendant then drove forward and made a wide right turn onto Thrasher Drive, again squealing his tires. While making the turn onto Thrasher Drive defendant's vehicle occupied a major portion of the road and the vehicle's left rear end slid or "fishtailed" as it turned the corner, causing the front end of the car to aim toward the child. Defendant then straightened the car and proceeded down Thrasher Drive. Mrs. Schumacher notified the Bloomingdale police, who arrested defendant shortly thereafter.

Defendant testified that as he approached the intersection at 20 miles per hour, he observed the child standing on the property to his right and stopped. He then backed up one car length, made a wide turn onto Thrasher Drive to avoid losing sight of the child, and proceeded northbound. Although defendant admitted the car wheels squealed, he denied the car fishtailed or pointed at the child.

Gerald Stropoli, defendant's father, testified the vehicle was equipped with a high performance differential, causing the wheels to rotate quickly and squeal when the vehicle is accelerating.

Officer Carolyn Vallas of the Bloomingdale police force testified the streets in that area of Bloomingdale have neither curbs nor sidewalks, but are bounded only by a small amount of gravel and the neighboring lawns. The blacktop streets have no lane markings and are approximately 20 to 25 feet across. The speed limit in that area is 25 miles per hour. Vallas stated defendant told her he had been driving 30 miles per hour on Raven Lane.

Prior to trial, defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to set forth a sufficient factual basis was denied by the court. The court also refused to submit jury instructions tendered by defendant which defined "willful and wanton conduct" and required the jury to conclude defendant's conduct constituted a "gross deviation" from the reasonable standard of care in order to find him guilty. During deliberations, the jury requested a legal definition of "wanton" and a dictionary. The court refused the requests without consulting or communicating with defendant or his counsel. After deliberations, the jury found defendant guilty and the court sentenced him to six months of court supervision and imposed a $50 fine. Defendant appeals.

Defendant first contends the court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the complaint because it failed to charge the necessary elements of the offense of reckless driving as required by section 111-3(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 111-2(a)). The purpose of section 111-3(a) is to inform the accused of the nature and elements of the offense against him so that he may prepare his defense and protect himself from a subsequent prosecution for the same offense. People v. Smith (1984), 99 Ill.2d 467, 471, 459 N.E.2d 1357; People v. Thompson (1984), 125 Ill. App.3d 665, 672, 466 N.E.2d 380, appeal denied (1984), 101 Ill.2d 550; People v. Puleo (1981), 96 Ill. App.3d 457, 463, 421 N.E.2d 367.

The offense of reckless driving is committed when one "drives any vehicle with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-503(a).) Neither intoxication nor actual damage to persons or property are necessary elements of the offense. People v. Cox (1985), 130 Ill. App.3d 1073, 1078, 475 N.E.2d 248; People v. Tuell (1981), 97 Ill. App.3d 849, 852, 423 N.E.2d 954.

The complaint at issue here charged:

"Reckless driving in violation of Section 11-503 (a) of Chapter 95 1/2 of the Illinois Revised Statutes of said State, in this to wit; that the said defendant drove a motor vehicle, a 1984, blue, chevrolet, IL, 85, LY7457, with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons, specifically, Cora B. Schumacher, age 3 yrs., and property, in that Michael W. Stropoli drove his vehicle W/B on Raven Lane approaching Thrasher Lane at a high rate of speed. [He] drove the vehicle in reverse at a high rate of speed, squealing the tires, and then drove forward at a high rate of speed onto N/B Thrasher and driving in wrong lane."

Defendant argues the complaint is fatally defective because it fails to identify what property was threatened or define how his conduct threatened the ...


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