URBANA — A Champaign teen convicted of the violent armed robbery of a cab driver faces up to 30 years in prison when sentenced.
A Champaign County jury Wednesday convicted Sandie Starns, 19, who last lived in the 1300 block of North Champaign Street, Champaign, of robbing cab driver Ron Koehler of the cab he was driving and his personal effects that were in it after he put a cord around Koehler's neck and tried to choke him.
Koehler was able to pull the cord away and was not physically harmed.
Testimony in the trial before Judge Heidi Ladd was that the robbery occurred about 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 19.
Koehler testified it was his first fare of his shift and he hadn't even had time to get his radio and GPS out of the bag he carried with him, which also included his wallet, diet sodas and his lunch.
Koehler said he picked up a man at the Mobil Super Pantry, 1503 N. Neil St., C, who told him to go to Countrybrook Apartments in west Champaign but did not give him an exact address.
As the cab headed west on Bradley, the fare instructed him to turn north on a side street to a house where he could pick up a key.
Asked by Assistant State's Attorney Adam Dill what he thought of that request, Koehler responded: "I was thinking nothing good because it was a short street and dark."
Koehler said he turned around and looked directly at the man who was seated behind him, who was lit by the dome light. Koehler said the fare was Starns.
Asked if he was sure, Koehler said: "I'm 100 percent now, looking directly at him."
As Koehler looked at the man in the cab, the man said, 'You know what I'm after. Give me the money,' Koehler recounted.
Koehler said the robber asked him if he wanted to die and threatened to shoot him. Koehler said he then grabbed the man's hands and realized there was no gun.
"His face was even with my face. I pulled him closer. I just wanted to look at his face," Koehler testified.
Koehler said he picked up the radio microphone to call for help when the robber grabbed it from his hand. Koehler said he then felt a rope around his neck for three to four seconds.
"I decided I had to get out of there. I grabbed it with my hand and jerked it away," Koehler said.
He jumped from the mini-van and the robber got out too but then got in the driver's seat and took off. Koehler used his cell phone to call 911 and waited for a police officer on the corner of Bradley Avenue and Elm Street.
Later, at the police department, he learned that the van had been abandoned in the 100 block of Edgebrook Drive.
Starns was developed as a suspect through surveillance video taken from the Mobil station and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested five days later.
The clerk at the gas station testified she called a cab for him. Additionally, a ball cap that he was wearing in the gas station was found in the mini-van. DNA taken from the bill of the cap was linked to Starns.
Starns gave a statement to Champaign police detective Pat Funkhouser in which he confessed to the robbery. The jury heard the statement during the trial and asked that it be replayed — twice — during deliberations.
Judge Heidi Ladd set sentencing for May 9 and revoked Starns' bond.