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People v. Mendoza

December 22, 2004


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable David P. Sterba, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice South

Following a bench trial, defendant, Pablo Mendoza, was convicted of reckless homicide, reckless homicide of an unborn child, and aggravated fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer. He was then sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that his conviction must be reversed because the trial court relied on a mandatory statutory presumption in effect at the time of trial that has since been held unconstitutional. He also contends that the trial court erred in allowing the emergency room doctor to testify that his name was incorrect on his medical chart, and that he shrugged his shoulders on being told that two people died as a result of the automobile collision. We affirm.

[9]     At trial, Alsip police officer Jim Brongiel testified that about 4 a.m. on May 20, 2000, he was on patrol when he received a call of a suspicious vehicle on 120th Street in Alsip, Illinois. He proceeded to that location and saw a Chevrolet Suburban parked behind an apartment building. When Officer Brongiel illuminated the car with his spotlight, an Hispanic male stuck his head out of the passenger rear window and said something like "oh, shit, it's the police." The driver, later identified as defendant, then pulled away and Officer Brongiel activated his emergency lights and siren and gave chase. As defendant turned onto Hamlin Avenue, he accelerated his speed and then turned west onto 121st Place, driving at a speed of approximately 35 to 40 miles per hour. Defendant also made "somewhat wide" turns and was "swerving from left to right." When defendant got to the end of 121st Place, he turned south onto Harding and then turned east onto 122nd Street, making a wide turn and disobeying a stop sign. He then made another wide turn south onto Avers Avenue and, after that, turned and drove through a stop sign east onto 123rd Street.

Officer Brongiel testified that defendant accelerated as he drove on 123rd Street, and he did not recall seeing brake lights when defendant approached the cross streets along 123rd Street. As he approached Kedzie Avenue, Officer Brongiel saw another vehicle heading north on Kedzie. He also saw that the light was red for eastbound traffic on 123rd Street and that defendant appeared to be pulling away from him. As he passed the traffic signal, defendant swerved slightly, then collided with the vehicle coming north on Kedzie.

After the collision, Officer Brongiel observed a woman lying on the street and defendant exiting his vehicle and walking toward the cemetery next to the road. Officer Brongiel drew his service weapon and ordered defendant to stop. Officer Brongiel took defendant into custody, and when he asked defendant if he realized what he had done, defendant shook his head and said "it didn't matter."

Officer Brongiel further testified that his dash-mounted radar and camera recorded the chase on videotape. Officer Brongiel later viewed the tape, which showed the chase starting on 122nd Street and Avers Avenue. The tape showed that defendant passed three speed limit signs, indicating a speed limit of 35 miles per hour, and that at one point in the chase, his squad car was traveling at 71 to 73 miles per hour. The tape also indicated that the traffic light was red as the officer approached the intersection at 123rd and Kedzie behind defendant, and that it was still red when defendant was in the middle of the intersection. In addition, the tape showed that the brake lights on defendant's vehicle went on momentarily at the time of the collision.

Giovanna DiRutigliano testified that she was with some friends on the morning of the incident, when one of her friends called for a ride. Two men in a Suburban picked them up and DiRutigliano identified defendant as the driver. She stated that she could smell marijuana upon entering the vehicle, but she did not see either of the men smoking this substance. After they dropped one of her friends off, they waited outside an apartment building. At this time, DiRutigliano switched seats and moved to the front of the vehicle.

Defendant was seated in the driver's seat when a police car pulled up. Defendant drove off and the police officer turned on his flashing lights and followed them with his emergency lights on. DiRutigliano recalled one of the men saying "get rid of the heat." She further testified that as they were driving with the police in pursuit, defendant was picking up speed. At one time, she looked at the speedometer, which indicated that they were traveling about 80 miles per hour. She told defendant to stop and let her out because she was scared.

When they were a couple of feet away from the intersection at 123rd and Kedzie, she saw that the traffic light was red and saw headlights coming from the right perpendicular street. She told defendant to stop and that they were going to crash, then felt the car pick up speed and travel through the intersection, colliding with the approaching vehicle. DiRutigliano admitted on cross-examination that her statement to the police did not include the fact that she had smelled marijuana in the Suburban, that she saw the speedometer register 80, or that she observed the red light on the traffic signal.

Doctor Alicia Shirakbari testified to treating defendant at the St. Francis emergency room the morning of the incident. Defendant told her that he was the driver of the vehicle, that he was fleeing from the police because he did not have a driver's license, and that he hit another car. Doctor Shirakbari testified that defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .127 and that his toxicology screen was positive for marijuana and cocaine.

Doctor Shirakbari further testified that she told defendant that there were two fatalities. The prosecution then asked whether she saw defendant say or do anything in response. Defense counsel objected on the grounds of relevance, but the trial court overruled the objection. Doctor Shirakbari stated that defendant shrugged his shoulders and did not say anything. She also testified that defendant's initial medical record indicated that his name was "Nenbozh."

Alsip police sergeant Randy Kessler testified that he responded to the scene of the accident on 123rd Street and Kedzie Avenue. The sergeant looked inside the Suburban and saw a nickel-plated semiautomatic weapon inside the center console between the front seats.

Alsip police officer Mark Miller testified that he searched the Suburban after it was towed to the Alsip police station. He found and inventoried a handgun and a burnt marijuana cigarette.

Merrionette Park police officer John Cavazos testified that he responded to a call concerning the incident in question. When he was a few blocks away from the intersection of 123rd and Kedzie, he saw a Suburban collide with a smaller vehicle. Prior to and at the point of impact, he saw that the light was green for southbound traffic on Kedzie. He also saw two bodies project out of the smaller vehicle, then saw defendant exit the driver's side of the Suburban and climb over a fence by the cemetery. ...

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