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People v. Merritt

September 30, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MELISSA A. MERRITT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 00CF1356 Honorable Harold J. Frobish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Turner

UNPUBLISHED

Defendant, Melissa A. Merritt, appeals her conviction for aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) (625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(C) (West 2000)), asserting the State failed to prove that her alcohol consumption was a proximate cause of another's injuries. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 10, 2000, at about 5:20 p.m., defendant was driving her van southbound on Towanda Avenue in Bloomington, Illinois, when she hit the victim, John Stevens, as he jogged across the road wearing headphones. The victim died from the injuries he sustained in the accident. A Breathalyzer test conducted at 7:12 that evening indicated defendant had an alcohol level of 0.12. The tests performed on defendant's blood and urine samples taken at 8 p.m. showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.097 with no trace of drugs.

In December 2000, a grand jury indicted defendant on two counts of reckless homicide (720 ILCS 5/9-3(a) (West 2000)), two counts of aggravated DUI (625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(C) (West 2000)), two counts of DUI (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2000)), operation of an uninsured motor vehicle (625 ILCS 5/3-707 (West 2000)), and unlawful possession of cannabis (720 ILCS 550/4(a) (West 2000)). In March 2001, the State charged defendant with speeding (625 ILCS 5/11-601(b) (West 2000)) and driving too fast for conditions (625 ILCS 5/11-601(a) (West 2000)).

At the beginning of the May 2001 bench trial, defendant entered a plea of guilty to the unlawful-possession-of-cannabis and operation-of-an-uninsured-motor-vehicle charges. The trial court also granted the State's motion to dismiss the driving-too-fast-for-conditions charge.

James Crabtree testified he was driving northbound on Towanda Avenue at the time of the accident. Crabtree stated the conditions were dry and clear on the evening of November 10, 2000. According to Crabtree, it was already dark but the light was good with several streetlights and car headlights. As he approached the intersection of Fleetwood and Towanda, Crabtree saw the victim turn off Fleetwood and jog in the grass along Towanda. It appeared the victim was going to cross the street. Crabtree lost sight of the victim and stopped on Towanda to make a left turn onto Fleetwood. As he was waiting to make his turn, he heard a loud thump noise and then saw a body rolling down the street in his rearview mirror. Before the thump, he did not hear a horn or tires. Crabtree stated that, if he had been going southbound, he would have slowed down because the victim looked like he was going "to dart out" into the road.

Jennifer Darrow was traveling southbound on Towanda Avenue at the time of the accident. Darrow described the weather as clear and the area as "pretty dark." She was in the right lane (adjacent to the curb) when defendant's red van passed her in the left lane approximately a half block before the intersection of Towanda and Fleetwood. As defendant passed Darrow, she swerved a bit. Darrow estimated defendant was going 45 miles per hour.

After noticing defendant's van, Darrow noticed the victim standing on the side of the road and looking at the oncoming traffic. As soon as she saw the victim, she slowed down her vehicle. The victim was about four to five car lengths in front of Darrow when he stepped onto the road. The victim continued to cross Darrow's lane. He stopped on the hash marks separating the southbound lanes, hesitated for a moment, and then ran. The victim was just off the hash marks when defendant's van struck him. Before impact, Darrow did not see defendant's van slow down, any evasive maneuvers by defendant, or the van's brake lights go on or hear the squealing of tires, braking of tires, or a horn. After impact, the van came to a stop in the curbside lane and never crossed into the northbound lanes. After she saw the accident, Darrow had no trouble stopping her vehicle.

Ruth Farkas was driving northbound on Towanda Avenue at the time of the accident. She too described the weather as clear and the area as dark. As she was driving in the passing lane, Farkas noticed the victim on the grass alongside the southbound lanes. She continued to notice him standing in the grass. After Farkas changed lanes, she saw headlights veer toward her and saw defendant's van enter the northbound passing lane. Farkas did not see the impact but saw the victim's body come off the van.

Richard Pearson was traveling in the northbound curbside lane when the accident occurred. He did not see the victim before the accident. He did see something pass in front of the headlights of the southbound van and then saw the vehicle swerve to the left. Pearson testified defendant was traveling the same speed as the rest of the traffic.

Police officer Steve Sicinski responded to a dispatch at 5:26 p.m. Upon arrival, he observed defendant's van with front-end damage and the victim lying in the street. Officer Sicinski learned defendant was driving the van but did not immediately interview her because she was extremely upset.

After about 5 to 10 minutes, he spoke with defendant. Defendant stated she was near the intersection of Towanda and Fleetwood when she saw the victim in the grass running southbound. The victim then darted out into the street. At that time, defendant applied her brakes and performed an evasive maneuver to avoid striking him but still struck the victim. Defendant stated she was driving in the curbside lane at 35 ...


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