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People v. Beck

April 15, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
PAUL C. BECK, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ogle County.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

No. 94--CF--156 94--TR--5625

Honorable Richard E. DeMoss, Judge, Presiding.

delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Paul C. Beck, was charged by information with two counts of reckless homicide (720 ILCS 5/9--3(a) (West 1994)) and charged by complaint with driving while under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11--501 (West 1994)). Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Ogle County, defendant was found guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to concurrent 10-year prison terms for the reckless homicide convictions and a concurrent 364-day jail term for the driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI) conviction. Defendant now appeals his convictions and sentences. We affirm the reckless homicide convictions and sentences but vacate the DUI conviction.

On the evening of November 26, 1994, Sandra Meadows was driving her Lincoln Towncar southbound on Route 251 in rural Ogle County, Illinois. Her daughter, Shawna Meadows, was in the front passenger seat, and her mother, Alleta Priest, was in the rear passenger seat. At that same time, defendant was driving his Ford van northbound on Route 251. The two vehicles collided, injuring Sandra and defendant and killing Shawna and Alleta.

Following the collision on November 26, 1994, two blood-alcohol tests were conducted on defendant. On November 14, 1995, defense counsel filed a pretrial motion to exclude evidence of a doctor-ordered blood-alcohol test. On January 25, 1996, defense counsel filed a pretrial motion to suppress evidence of a police-ordered blood-alcohol test taken later on. Following a February 8, 1996, hearing on these pretrial motions, the doctor-ordered test was ruled admissible, and the police-ordered test was suppressed. Trial was set for April 1, 1996. On that day, defense counsel filed a motion to allow testimony concerning results of the police-ordered blood-alcohol test, waiving his earlier objection to admission of the test. The trial Judge denied the motion.

At trial, Sandra Meadows testified that on the evening of November 26, 1994, she was driving her car southbound on Route 251. Her daughter, Shawna, was riding in the front passenger seat while her mother, Alleta Priest, was riding in the rear passenger seat. It was dry and clear outside. Meadows testified that she had her headlights on and was driving approximately 50 to 55 miles per hour, within the speed limit. As she was about to crest a hill, a van with no headlights on suddenly appeared in her lane. She jerked to the left to avoid a head- on collision. After her vehicle collided with the van, Meadows unbuckled her seatbelt and lost consciousness. She was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital for treatment of her injuries.

Ronald Quest, an Ogle County sheriff's deputy, testified that he was called to the collision scene around 7:45 p.m. on November 26, 1994. When he approached the Lincoln Towncar, he observed that the driver was pinned inside the car. The front seat and rear seat passengers were dead. About an hour later, Quest left the scene and went to St. Anthony's Hospital. At the hospital, he spoke with defendant, who was being treated for his injuries in the emergency room. He detected an odor of alcohol on defendant's breath and noted defendant's bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Based on his police experience, in which he had previously observed approximately 100 persons who were under the influence of alcohol, Quest informed defendant that he believed defendant was under the influence of alcohol. Quest then read defendant his Miranda rights. Defendant indicated that he understood his rights and waived them. Quest further testified that defendant then told Quest that he had been at the Silver Dollar in Rochelle, Illinois, between 6 and 7 p.m., where he drank four 10-ounce glasses of beer. Defendant then left the Silver Dollar and had to have his van jump-started. He was driving to a motel in Rockford, Illinois, when the collision occurred. Defendant did not remember anything about the collision itself. On cross-examination, Quest admitted that had he known of defendant's injury to his tongue, he might have changed his mind about the cause of defendant's slurred speech. He did not perform any field sobriety tests on defendant.

Scott Jaeger, a volunteer with the Lindenwood fire department rescue squad, testified that he was called to the scene of the collision on the evening of November 26, 1994. He saw that the two vehicles were positioned 10 to 15 feet apart. He helped to extricate defendant from the van. Jaeger described defendant as very combative. Defendant had a big gash on his forehead. Jaeger testified that, in his experience as a rescue squad volunteer, accident victims who had consumed alcohol tended to be less cooperative than those who had not. After defendant was removed from the van, Jaeger observed two full beer cans and a couple of empty beer cans sitting on the ground on one side of the van.

Martin Gorsuch, detective corporal with the Ogle County sheriff's department, testified that he was called to the scene of the collision around 7:45 p.m. on November 26, 1994. When he arrived at the scene, he observed that both vehicles had extensive front-end damage. The Lincoln Towncar was on the east side of the road facing in a westerly direction. The van was in the middle of the road facing in a southeasterly direction. He took photographs of the scene and marked the vehicles so he could take measurements once they were removed. Gorsuch further testified that there were two lanes at the point of collision on Route 251. There were no skid marks on the roadway. There were a number of gouge marks in the southbound lane, indicating to Gorsuch that maximum engagement had occurred in the southbound lane. This finding was not inconsistent with the possibility that the Lincoln Towncar had turned to the left prior to impact. Gorsuch was at the scene 15 to 20 minutes before he departed for St. Anthony's Hospital.

According to Gorsuch, when he arrived at the hospital he spoke with Deputy Quest and then reinterviewed defendant in the emergency room while Quest was present. He said that defendant understood his Miranda rights and agreed to waive them. Defendant explained that he went to the Silver Dollar that afternoon, where he had about four 10-ounce beers. He left the tavern and had to have his van jump-started before traveling northbound on Route 251 to a motel in Rockford. Defendant did not recall the collision itself. Gorsuch detected an odor of alcohol on defendant's breath and noted defendant's bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Gorsuch believed defendant was under the influence of alcohol.

Gorsuch also testified that he spoke with defendant several days later as he was being transported from the hospital to the Ogle County Jail. He was advised of his Miranda rights and agreed to waive them. Defendant said that he went to T.J.'s Lounge and had a couple of beers before going to the Silver Dollar, where he met up with a friend and consumed three to four 10-ounce beers. He left the tavern and had to get his van jump-started. He did not remember the collision. On cross- examination, Gorsuch admitted that had he known of defendant's injury to his tongue, he might have changed his mind about the cause of defendant's slurred speech. He did not perform any field sobriety tests on defendant. Jaime Gomez, a trauma surgeon, testified that he was working at St. Anthony's Hospital on the evening of November 26, 1994. He examined defendant in the emergency room around 8:30 p.m. and ordered a set of blood tests to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of defendant. The results of the tests were communicated from the hospital lab to the emergency room through a computer. Dr. Gomez repaired lacerations to defendant's scalp and tongue.

Renee Ballard, a phlebotomist at St. Anthony's Hospital, testified that she was directed to draw blood from defendant on the evening of November 26, 1994. She drew about five or six vials and delivered them to the hospital lab for testing. Barbara Kaiser, a medical technologist at St. Anthony's Hospital, testified that she performed a blood-alcohol test on defendant's blood at 8:58 p.m., which revealed a blood alcohol content of .1392 grams per 100 liters.

After the State rested its case in chief, defense counsel moved for a directed verdict. The motion was denied.

Randy and Bobbie Arjes testified that they were traveling northbound on Route 251 on the evening in question. They were traveling about 55 miles per hour and came upon a white van traveling only 40 to 45 miles an hour. They smelled exhaust fumes from the van. They pulled alongside the van at the stop sign at the intersection of Routes 64 and 251. There were multiple lanes at the intersection, allowing them to drive ahead of the van. As they topped a hill about one-half mile ahead of the van, Randy noticed that the van's headlights went out. Just before that time, Randy saw a vehicle heading southbound and told Bobbie he thought there was going to be an accident. Bobbie turned around and saw a flash of light that she thought was the impact of the two vehicles. The Arjeses turned around and headed toward the crash site. Randy approached the van. The driver said he was okay and to see if the people in the Towncar were all right. Randy then tried to comfort the driver of the Towncar. In the meantime, Bobbie ran to a farmhouse to call an ambulance.

James Watson, a bartender at T.J.'s Lounge in Rochelle, testified that defendant came to the bar on November 26, 1994, between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. Between the time defendant entered the bar and the time Watson left work at 5 p.m., defendant had consumed three glasses of beer.

John Williams, a friend of defendant's, testified that he arrived at T.J.'s Lounge between 4:30 and 5 p.m. on November 26, 1994. Defendant had two glasses of beer with Williams at T.J.'s Lounge. While there, defendant told Williams that he had been having trouble with his van. They left T.J.'s Lounge around 5:30 p.m. and walked three blocks to the Silver Dollar. Defendant drank one-half of a beer there before leaving around 6:30 p.m.

James Coats, a bartender at the Silver Dollar in Rochelle, testified that defendant came into the bar around 6 or 6:30 p.m. Coats could not recall whether defendant came alone or with Williams. Defendant ordered a glass of beer and consumed most of it before he left.

Defendant testified that he was 66 years old and married. He was a power lineman by trade. A native of Florida, he traveled from there on a regular basis to do work in Illinois. At the time of the incident he had been employed by Rockford Electric Power to work on a lighting project at Rockford Airport. On November 26, 1994, he flew from Florida to Chicago, arriving at 12:15 p.m. He took a bus to Rockford, where he had left his 1984 Ford Econoline van. It was both defendant's work vehicle and the place where he lived when he had work assignments in the area. The van would not start. Defendant got it started using a small battery charger. He then drove to Rochelle and entered T.J.'s Lounge around 3 p.m. While there he consumed three 10-ounce glasses of beer. He and Williams left around 5:30 p.m. and walked to the Silver Dollar. Defendant drank half of another glass of beer while there before leaving about 15 minutes later. When he discovered his van would not start once again, he got assistance having it jump-started. Defendant then headed for Rockford.

Defendant further testified that he drove only 40 to 45 miles per hour toward Rockford. Although he had had problems with the automatic choke that day, he had no difficulty with the van's steering and he was familiar with Route 251. He did not recall whether there were any full beer cans in the van prior to the collision. He testified that in the rear of the van there were two garbage bags full of empty beer cans and pop cans, which he collected to be recycled.

Defendant also testified that as he was driving along Route 251 he was passed by a car at the intersection of Routes 64 and 251. He continued driving and could not recall anything about the accident itself. Following the collision, he was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital to be treated for his injuries. On cross-examination, defendant remembered talking only to one police officer in the emergency room after the collision. He might have told the police that he had consumed three or four glasses of beer at the Silver Dollar but could not remember exactly what he said. He admitted that the beer he consumed prior to the collision had some effect on him but stated that it did not affect his ability to perform.

Following jury deliberations, defendant was found guilty of both counts of reckless homicide as well as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Defendant's motion for a new trial was denied. He was thereafter sentenced to concurrent 10-year prison terms for the reckless homicide convictions and a concurrent 364-day jail term for the DUI ...


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