Jury convicts man of aggravated DUI in fatal crash
URBANA — Nov. 1 is a day with a lot of meaning to Jesse Piat.
The 28-year-old Tuscola woman had her first date with her husband on that date. She gave birth to their daughter on that date. And she lost her husband on that date three years ago.
On Thursday, she got the so-called "closure" she was hoping for when a Champaign County jury decided that Eddie Piat's friend, Dana Hasselbring, was criminally responsible for Mr. Piat's death because Hasselbring had ingested cocaine before his motorcycle hit Mr. Piat's, causing the injuries that ultimately killed him.
After deliberating two hours, the jury convicted Hasselbring, 30, whose last known address was in the 900 block of North Willis Avenue, Champaign, of aggravated driving under the influence of any amount of drug, substance or intoxicating compound.
Judge John Kennedy set sentencing for Nov. 8 and revoked Hasselbring's bond. He was taken into custody immediately.
He faces penalties ranging from probation to three to 14 years in prison.
The aggravated DUI charge stemmed from a collision that occurred Sept. 18, 2010, on Kirby Avenue near Lincoln Road in Champaign, just south of the Greencroft subdivision.
About 8 p.m. that day, Hasselbring and Mr. Piat, 26, were the lead drivers in a group of several motorcyclists who were headed east on Kirby Avenue.
Officer Jim Bednarz, an accident reconstruction specialist for the Champaign Police Department, testified that both men were driving well over the 35 mph limit on the four-lane street. Bednarz estimated Hasselbring's speed at 60 to 82 mph and Mr. Piat's at 57 to 79 mph.
Hasselbring admitted to police that his motorcycle hit Mr. Piat's cycle causing both of them to skid for more than 200 feet. Mr. Piat, who was not wearing a helmet, sustained critical head injuries.
He lived at Carle Foundation Hospital for six weeks before dying on Nov. 1, 2010, his daughter's 4th birthday.
Dr. Nicole Howell, a Carle pathologist, testified Mr. Piat died of respiratory failure cause by his brain injuries.
"It's never-ending," Jesse Piat said of the consequences of his death to her and their daughter, who is now almost 7.
She said her daughter regularly sees a child psychologist and a grief counselor as well as takes sleep medication for night terrors.
Piat said while the guilty verdict may not have any immediate impact on her daughter, "I'll finally get closure."
Hasselbring was criminally charged in June 2011 with the aggravated driving under the influence, a Class 2 felony.
Kennedy was the second judge assigned to hear the case while Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dornik was the fourth prosecutor to have a role in Hasselbring's prosecution.
The case took so long to resolve because of multiple pretrial motions filed by defense attorney Jim Martinkus of Champaign, including efforts to dismiss the case based on double jeopardy, because Hasselbring had pleaded guilty to a traffic offense stemming from the crash before being charged with the aggravated DUI.
When Kennedy declined to dismiss, Martinkus appealed to the appellate court, which dismissed the appeal. That process, known as an interlocutory appeal, took about 10 months.
Martinkus also mounted an effort to keep out of evidence the results of blood and urine tests that revealed Hasselbring had a cocaine metabolite in his system, but Kennedy declined to do that.
Martinkus continued to argue Thursday to the seven men and five women that Hasselbring was not under the influence of cocaine at the time of the crash.
"A metabolite is not a controlled substance, It is simply a natural by-product of the process of something breaking down," he argued.
Illinois State Police forensic scientist Tara Kerns had testified that she found a cocaine metabolite in Hasselbring's blood and urine samples. It was her opinion that the cocaine had been ingested anywhere from 24 to 28 hours before the blood draw, which happened three hours after the crash.
At the close of the state's case, Kennedy continued to reject Martinkus' arguments that the law says nothing about metabolites in the system but only controlled substances.
Dornik argued that the crash was "not an accident because you don't just get cocaine metabolite in your system."
Any amount of cocaine is illegal, she argued, and "there is no other way to get (a cocaine metabolite) in your system" than by using cocaine.