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The People of the State of Illinois v. Bruce N. Merrick

April 18, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 21st Judicial Circuit, Kankakee County, Illinois, Honorable Susan Sumner-Tungate, Judge, Presiding. Circuit No. 05-CF-595

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter

JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Lytton and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 After a jury trial, the defendant, Bruce N. Merrick, was convicted of two counts of aggravated driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI). 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1), (a)(2), (d)(1)(F) (West 2004). The two counts merged, and the defendant was sentenced to 8 years in the Department of Corrections (DOC), with the final 11 months of the sentence to be served at home with electronic home monitoring. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8A-3 (West 2004). On appeal, the defendant argues that: (1) the State failed to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because there was no proof that the defendant's alcohol consumption was the proximate cause of the automobile accident; (2) his sentence was excessive; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting and considering three victim impact statements during sentencing. We affirm.


¶ 3 On July 17, 2005, the defendant was in a motor vehicle collision that resulted in the death of his friend, Mark Torstrick. At trial, the State argued that the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol and that this act resulted in Torstrick's death.

¶ 4 The State presented the testimony of William Carnahan, who worked for the Kankakee County sheriff's office. Carnahan testified that when he first arrived at the scene of the accident, he began documenting the scene and investigating the cause of the crash. He checked the scene for skid marks, fluid, debris, gravel, sand, or other substances that could have possibly caused the crash. He did not see any foreign matter on the roadway. Carnahan also inspected the inside of the vehicle at approximately 3 a.m. and detected the smell of alcohol.

¶ 5 Kimberly White testified that she worked as a nurse at St. Mary's Hospital on July 17, 2005. She stated that when the defendant arrived at the hospital, he was classified as a "level one trauma" and qualified to have blood and drug testing done to make sure he had a "good level of consciousness." She testified that blood was drawn from the defendant at 1:55 a.m., and the lab received it at 2:03 a.m. The defendant's blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.212. White also testified that the defendant was not tested for gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB).

¶ 6 Coroner Bob Gessner testified from an autopsy report prepared by a medical examiner who had died the previous week. Gessner described the multiple injuries to Torstrick as a result of the accident and stated that the immediate cause of death was blunt neck and chest trauma.

¶ 7 The defendant testified that he had been in the military for 21 years and that Torstrick had been in the Marines. On July 16, 2005, he picked Torstrick up at approximately 1 p.m., and on the way to the defendant's house, they stopped to buy some groceries, including some beer. Later on that afternoon, the defendant stated that he began cooking ribs, he drank "two-thirds of five beers" while cooking and put some beer on the ribs.

¶ 8 After Torstrick and the defendant's son had an argument, Torstrick left the defendant's house, and the defendant went to give Torstrick a ride home. When he found Torstrick, they decided to go to a strip club. Once at the strip club, the defendant drank two more beers. He and Torstrick also entered into an altercation with some men because the defendant commented that one of the strippers was "ugly." The defendant took Torstrick into the bathroom to calm him down. When they returned, the defendant testified that he switched to drinking soda in case he needed to "pound somebody." The defendant stated that the last memory he had was right after leaving the strip club and that as far as he knew, he was the driver that night. He had no memory of the accident.

ΒΆ 9 The defendant's expert, Paul Bederka, testified that it was very unlikely the defendant had passed out from alcohol while driving home. The basis of his opinion was that the defendant was a "practiced drinker" who had built a tolerance to alcohol and was more functional with higher blood alcohol levels than other drinkers. Bederka believed that something else, or something in combination with alcohol, caused the defendant to pass out, and he suggested the drug GHB. While Bederka concluded ...

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