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10/23/97 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. JASON DIGIROLAMO

October 23, 1997

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
JASON DIGIROLAMO, APPELLEE.



Appeal from Appellate Court, Fifth District of Madison County. Case Numbers: AC5-94-0450, TR93CF1030, TR93CF1028. Hon. Phillip J. Kardis, Trial Judge.

The Honorable Justice Bilandic delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Miller, dissenting. Justice McMORROW joins in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bilandic

The Honorable Justice BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Jason Digirolamo, was charged by indictment in Madison County with one count of failing to report an accident involving personal injury or death (625 ILCS 5/11-401(b) (West 1992)) and with two counts of obstructing justice by the destruction of evidence (720 ILCS 5/31-4(a) (West 1992)). A jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of failure to report an accident resulting in a person's death and one count of obstructing justice. The trial court sentenced defendant to concurrent terms of 30 months' probation with certain specified conditions and a fine of $3,600. The appellate court reversed defendant's conviction for failure to report an accident and remanded for a new trial, and reversed defendant's conviction for obstructing justice. 279 Ill. App. 3d 487, 664 N.E.2d 720, 216 Ill. Dec. 83. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315), and now affirm the appellate court judgment.

FACTS

On April 11, 1993, the victim, 72-year-old retiree William Pranaitis, arose in the early morning hours while it was still dark outside to take his routine morning walk. His wife testified that her husband usually arose between 3:30 and 4 a.m. to take a walk and would then return home around 6:30 a.m. During Pranaitis' walks, he would take a plastic bag and a flashlight with him and pick up aluminum cans. A local police officer discovered Pranaitis' dead body lying next to a telephone pole near the intersection of Blackjack Road and Lebanon Road at 6:36 a.m. that day.

Detective Michael Ries of the Collinsville police department investigated the scene of the accident. Detective Ries observed a flashlight lying in the center of Lebanon Road, near its intersection with Blackjack Road; and a baseball hat and eyeglasses approximately three to four feet off the road in the grass. A bag containing cans was found resting against a curb approximately 50 feet from Blackjack Road. He also observed a single set of tire tracks which entered the grassy area alongside Lebanon Road and then traveled approximately 50 to 60 feet before reentering Lebanon Road. Detective Ries surmised that these tracks, which were narrow in width, were made by two right side tires of a small car or possibly a small truck. Detective Ries also noticed that a portion of the curb on Lebanon Road, around 100 to 120 feet from where Pranaitis' body was found, was missing. Blood was in the grass from the location of Pranaitis' body to a point 75 feet away where the hat was found. No vehicle parts or skid marks were found at the scene of the accident.

Officer David Schneider, an accident reconstruction specialist from the Collinsville police department, testified that he arrived at the scene of the accident at 7:40 a.m. He observed a "scrub" mark on the curb, made by the smear of rubber from a tire, and a 48-foot-long tire mark in the grass alongside Lebanon Road. Later, on April 23, 1993, Officer Schneider examined defendant's car and found scuff marks and a small dent to the edge of the rim of the right front tire, which he testified were consistent with the "scrub" mark found on the curb at the accident scene. He also observed the following damage to defendant's car: (1) dirt in the right front wheel rim; (2) a "broken out" windshield; (3) dents on the right front quarter panel and in the right side pillar (the support from the hood to the roof); and (4) a small, depression-type dent on the right side of the roof above the pillar. There was no blood on defendant's car. Based upon Officer Schneider's examination of both the scene of the accident and defendant's car, he concluded that a motor vehicle traveling eastbound on Lebanon Road left the road at the point of the "scrub" mark and that the right front corner of the vehicle struck the victim from behind. The impact caused the victim to be flipped onto the hood of the vehicle, with his head striking the pillar on the right side, and then propelled through the air to a resting point at the base of the telephone pole. In Officer Schneider's opinion, defendant's car could have been the one that struck Pranaitis because it displayed damage on the right side of the vehicle, which was consistent with the accident that killed the victim.

Detective Ries testified that, several days after the accident, he received a tip regarding the accident from an anonymous caller. This call prompted him to talk to Chris Digirolamo, defendant's brother. On April 21, 1993, Detective Ries and Detective Robert Vechetti interviewed Chris. Chris informed them that defendant had recently been involved in an accident. Chris took the detectives to Matt Chandler's apartment, believing that defendant's car would be located there. Detective Ries observed that defendant's car, which was a two-tone gray or silver color, had a dent 8 to 10 inches across on the right front quarter panel and a dent on the roof, which was two to three inches in diameter. Detective Ries also noticed that the column supporting the windshield on the passenger side of defendant's car had been crushed, the windshield had been removed, and the right front wheel had particles of grass and mud between the rim and the tire.

Defendant appeared as Detective Ries was photographing the car and agreed to speak with him and Detective Vechetti. Defendant informed the detectives that as he was traveling eastbound on Lebanon Road around 3 a.m. on April 11, 1993, he was bent over adjusting his radio when he hit something on Lebanon Road near Gliddon Park. Defendant initially stated that he believed he struck something, possibly a deer; however, he later said that he believed something may have been thrown at him. Detective Ries testified that Gliddon Park is located on Lebanon Road, approximately one-quarter to three-eighths of one mile east of the intersection of Blackjack and Lebanon Roads. Detective Ries further stated that, within two or three days of the accident, he and Detective Vechetti checked all the roads nearby, including the Gliddon Park area, but did not find any dead animals.

Defendant also told the detectives that he did not stop after his accident. Later, however, defendant claimed that he did stop and look, but left when he did not see anything. In response to a question about his car's windshield, defendant stated that he removed it because his father was coming to visit and he did not want him to know he had an accident. Defendant retrieved the broken windshield, removed from his car, from a nearby dumpster. Defendant subsequently made the statement: "I guess maybe I was the one that hit the man that night."

The State presented testimony from experts who examined the victim's body and other physical evidence. Dr. Raj Nanduri, a forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on Pranaitis on April 12, 1993. Dr. Nanduri testified that Pranaitis had extensive injuries, including large lacerations on the scalp and the back of his right leg in the knee area and a fracture to the left leg. She determined that Pranaitis' injuries were consistent with his being struck by a motor vehicle while he was upright and moving. Dr. Nanduri also determined that the injuries to the victim's head were consistent with his striking the dented right window post area of defendant's car. On cross-examination, however, she conceded that the damage to the window post could have been caused by removal of the windshield from the car. After considering all of Pranaitis' injuries, Dr. Nanduri found them to be consistent with his being struck by a car or possibly a small truck. Dr. Nanduri admitted that she could not say that defendant's car caused the victim's injuries; however, she concluded that the car's damage was consistent with the victim's injuries.

Kenneth Knight, an expert in hair and fiber evidence, analyzed Pranaitis' clothing, samples of his hair, and debris removed from the windshield glass of defendant's car. In the debris from the windshield, Knight identified animal hair from a dog and human Caucasian hair, which was not suitable for comparison. After comparing a cotton fiber found in the debris with Pranaitis' clothing, he concluded that they did not match.

Blair Schultz, an Illinois State Police forensic chemist, compared a piece of standard laminated glass from defendant's windshield to a piece of glass from Pranaitis' clothing. He found them to have the same refractive index, which means that the two pieces of glass could have originated from the same source. The likelihood of this match was one in five, meaning that one out of every five pieces of laminated glass would have the same refractive index.

Trace chemist Cheryl Cherry testified regarding her analysis of the debris on Pranaitis' clothing and the paint from defendant's car. Although she found several different colors of paint on the victim's clothing, the paint chips were not large enough to determine if it was automotive paint. There was also no match between the paint from defendant's car with the samples taken from the victim's clothing. She explained that when a person is thrown to the ground he will pick up paint and debris in his clothing. This result also occurs when a person is walking around.

Before concluding its case, the State called several of defendant's friends as witnesses. Defendant's best friend, Matthew Chandler, testified that around 4:20 a.m. on April 11, 1993, defendant came to his apartment and showed him the broken windshield on his car. Defendant told him that he had been driving home and hit something on Lebanon Road, but that he did not know what he had hit or if something had been thrown at his car. According to Chandler, defendant said that he stopped and looked back but did not see anything. Chandler saw defendant again a couple days later, when defendant brought his car to Chandler's apartment. They decided to replace the windshield, which had a 10- to 12-inch spider-web-type break on the passenger side with a small hole in the center, because defendant did not want his father to see it. Chandler and defendant purchased a piece of plexiglass to replace the windshield. While cutting the plexiglass, Chandler and defendant read an article in a Collinsville newspaper about a fatal hit-and-run accident that happened the same night that defendant's windshield got broken. Defendant initially was concerned because of the coincidence. Chandler and his brother Todd removed defendant's windshield with hammers and a broomstick handle. The windshield was not replaced with the plexiglass because it had been cut too small. The police arrived approximately two hours following the removal of the windshield. Initially, Chandler lied to the police about defendant's coming to his apartment the night of the accident because he did not want to hurt defendant. Chandler, however, later told the police that a nervous defendant came to his apartment and told him that he had hit something on Lebanon Road near "Glen Park." Defendant was not sure if he had hit an animal or a person, or if someone had thrown something at him. Chandler admitted that he and defendant had discussed not telling anyone about the incident.

Jennifer Peoples was also at Chandler's apartment on April 11, 1993. Peoples testified that defendant arrived at 4:24 a.m. and said that he had hit something, perhaps a curb, deer, dog or person, on Lebanon Road. A few days later, she went with defendant and Chandler to the "Grandpa's" store to buy plexiglass to replace the windshield. Peoples further testified that defendant showed her some short pieces of whitish-gray hair, which were found on defendant's car. Melissa Toon also viewed the hair, which she described as gray, straight and short like a man's hair is cut. Toon conceded, however, that the hair could have been animal hair. Defendant's roommate, Brent Broshow, testified that defendant showed him three to four strands of coarse, white hair, approximately three inches long, which he believed were from an animal.

The State also presented the testimony of Tad Kicielinske and Steven Van Dyke. Kicielinske stated that defendant drove him home from a party on April 11, 1993, dropping him off around 3:30 a.m. Van Dyke stated that defendant dropped him off that night at his home sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. Both Kicielinske and Van Dyke live in Collinsville.

Defendant presented the testimony of John and Julie Carlson. The Carlsons testified that on April 11, 1993, they were delivering newspapers in their car. Around 4:45 a.m., they went through the intersection of Lebanon Road and Blackjack Road, which is not well lit. The first time through the intersection around 4:45 a.m. they did not notice anything. About 30 to 40 minutes later, between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m., they went through the intersection again and observed a flashlight. They then saw a small dark car, possibly a Japanese model or some other foreign model, which came over into their lane causing them to swerve. After seeing the car for "just a split second or two," they noticed that the passenger side had front-end damage and that the passenger side headlight was "out." The car appeared to be a newer, two-door hatchback model, which had a longer front end than did American-made cars.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. On Sunday, April 11, 1993, around 3 a.m., defendant was driving his 1982 four-door Ford Escort on Lebanon Road just past "Glen Park" when something hit his windshield. He heard a loud bang and his windshield broke on the right side. Defendant claimed that he stopped, looked back without getting out of his car and did not see anything, so he left. He believed that someone may have thrown something at his windshield. Defendant then drove to his friend Matt Chandler's apartment because he was scared and wanted Chandler to see the car. He arrived there a little after 4 a.m. Defendant, Chandler and Kelly Johnson discussed whether he had hit a deer, a pole, a mailbox or even a person. Since defendant claimed that his car never left the road, they ruled out a mailbox, a pole, and a person because they would not be in the middle of the road.

The next day defendant discovered dents in the right quarter panel and passenger door of his car. He also found that the windshield was broken on the passenger side with a cobwebbed effect and that some hairs were lodged in the windshield. Because defendant did not want his father to see the broken windshield, he took his car to Chandler's apartment with the intention of replacing the windshield. Prior to replacing the windshield, he put a garbage bag over it because it had rained that week. On April 21, 1993, defendant's brother, Chris, told him that some police officers wanted to speak to Chris about an accident he may have witnessed. When defendant returned home from school that day, he along with Chandler and Johnson tried to remove the windshield from his car. Chandler and Johnson finally succeeded. The police arrived a few hours later. Defendant testified that it was a coincidence that the removal of the windshield occurred the same day the police had contacted his brother. Moreover, defendant insisted that in removing the windshield, he had no intention of making it difficult for the State to analyze evidence in this case because he did not know that it was evidence in a criminal case.

Defendant admitted, however, that prior to removing his car's windshield he saw a newspaper article about a hit-and-run accident in Collinsville. The newspaper reported that the accident happened around 6:30 a.m. at the intersection of Blackjack and Lebanon Roads. At first defendant was scared and thought he was probably the hit-and-run ...


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