from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit,
Whiteside County, Illinois. Circuit No. 17-TR-2144 Honorable
Theodore G. Kutsunis, Judge, Presiding.
Attorneys for Appellant: Patrick Delfino, David J. Robinson,
and Luke McNeill, of State's Attorneys Appellate
Prosecutor's Office, of Springfield, for the People.
Attorneys for Appellee: James W. Mertes, James E. Fagerman,
Gary L. Spencer, and Cristina M. Buskohl, of Mertes &
Mertes, P.C., of Sterling, for appellee.
PRESIDING JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the
court, with opinion. Justice O'Brien concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
SCHMIDT PRESIDING JUSTICE
1 The State charged defendant, Jeffrey A. Wunderlich, a
Whiteside County sheriffs deputy, under the Illinois Vehicle
Code with failure to yield while turning left (625 ILCS
5/11-902 (West 2016)), driving in the wrong direction
(id. § 11-708), and improper lane usage
(id. § 11-709(a)), following an accident
involving defendant and a motorcycle. Defendant filed a
motion to dismiss the charges, which the trial court granted.
The State appeals. We affirm.
2 I. FACTS
3 An accident occurred while defendant, who was off duty but
in his marked squad car, responded to a call for officers to
assist in looking for a patient that had gone missing from a
nearby mental health facility. After receiving the call,
defendant performed a left turn. The road he was turning onto
was a one-way street meant for traffic traveling in the
opposite direction. While executing the turn, defendant
collided with a motorcycle.
4 The State filed multiple petty traffic offenses against the
defendant. Defendant responded by filing a motion to dismiss
the charges pursuant to section 114-1(a)(3) of the Code of
Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/114-1(a)(3) (West
2016)). Defendant asserted he was entitled to unqualified
immunity from prosecution of violations of regulations
governing direction of movement or turning in specified
directions pursuant to section 11-205(c)(4) of the Vehicle
Code (625 ILCS 5/11-205(c)(4) (West 2016)). His argument was
based on the fact that he was the driver of an authorized
emergency vehicle responding to an emergency call.
5 The trial court held a hearing on defendant's motion to
dismiss. Lieutenant John Booker of the Whiteside County
Sheriffs Department was the only witness who testified at the
hearing. Booker stated that on the evening in question, the
Whiteside County Sheriffs Department responded to a call for
assistance regarding a missing person. A mentally ill patient
from a mental health facility had escaped. Multiple law
enforcement agencies responded to the call and began to setup
a perimeter. Once Booker arrived on the scene, he assumed
control of the search. As part of his command, he ordered all
available sheriffs deputies to join the search. This included
off-duty deputies. Booker testified that the call was an
emergency and required an immediate law enforcement response.
Booker also inquired as to whether an airplane was available
to aid in the search for the missing patient. He further
stated that defendant was driving a fully marked squad car
and was responding to the emergency call when the collision
with the motorcycle occurred.
6 The trial court found that defendant was the driver of an
authorized emergency vehicle and was responding to an
emergency call when the commission of the acts charged
occurred. In granting defendant's motion to dismiss, the
trial court stated:
"The Court finds that *** the situation [defendant]
faced in the search and rescue was properly characterized as
an emergency situation. The Court also finds the charges
brought against Defendant are those which regulate the
movement or turning of traffic and that the Defendant was
responding to an emergency at the time of his accident
thereby invoking the protection of 11-205(c)(4) for the
7 II. ANALYSIS
8 On appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred in
granting defendant's motion to dismiss. The State
attempts to support this contention by stating that section
11-205 of the Vehicle Code does not confer absolute authority
to disregard regulations governing direction of movement or
turning. See id. § 11-205.
Additionally, the State argues that the defendant's
actions constituted a reckless disregard for the safety of
others. Alternatively, the State asserts that the trial court
erred in finding that defendant was responding to an
emergency situation at the time of the accident.
9 Before engaging the merits of the State's arguments, we
note that the parties disagree on the standard of review to
be applied. The State argues for a de novo standard
because the facts are not disputed and the question presented
is one of statutory construction. Defendant maintains that
the trial court's ruling was based on both a finding of
fact and the interpretation of a statutory section
necessitating a bifurcated standard of review. We agree with
defendant. "The trial judge based his decision on both a
finding of fact and a legal ruling. We review the legal
ruling de novo, and we review the finding of fact to