Attorneys for man on trial for DUI suggest woman's death unrelated to crash

Attorneys for man on trial for DUI suggest woman's death unrelated to crash

URBANA — The attorneys for an Urbana man accused of causing the death of an elderly Champaign woman while driving with cocaine in his system are suggesting that something other than his vehicle hitting her may have killed her.

A Champaign County jury was seated Tuesday to hear the trial of Joseph R. Perry, 47, charged with aggravated driving under the influence for allegedly causing the death of Marjorie Roberts almost two years ago in a traffic accident at Bradley and Willis avenues in Champaign.

Carle Foundation Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Henry Rahsaan Moore testified Tuesday that Mrs. Roberts, 76, died on Dec. 28, 2016, from injuries she sustained after being hit by Perry as she crossed Bradley near North Willis just before 6 p.m.

Moore testified that Mrs. Roberts, who was just blocks from her West Beardsley Avenue home, died as a result of "blunt force trauma" caused by a "constellation of injuries on the right side (of her body) consistent with being hit on her right side."

Those included fractures to her arms, neck instability, air under her skin from a punctured lung likely caused by a broken rib, and a deformed right knee, the doctor said.

"The number of injuries denotes a high amount of energy that hit her. Based on what I could see, it makes me think she had others I could not see," Moore said.

Moore said he and other members of a trauma team treated Mrs. Roberts for about 15 minutes that night before pronouncing her dead. Emergency medical technicians were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her as she was brought into the hospital because her heart had stopped.

"She stayed dead. We never got her back," Moore said after reciting a litany of treatment measures done in that brief time.

Under questioning by defense attorney Sandy Lawlyes, the doctor admitted he knew nothing of Mrs. Roberts' medical history at the time he treated her. In opening statements, Lawlyes called Mrs. Roberts "an elderly lady who suffered from a multitude of problems" and urged the jury not to be swayed by the tragic details of the collision.

Lawlyes had tried unsuccessfully to keep the jury from hearing Moore's opinion on the cause of Mrs. Roberts' death, arguing to Judge Adam Dill that the doctor was not a pathologist and had never testified as an expert on the cause of death in a trial.

No autopsy was ever conducted on Mrs. Roberts. The coroner often declines to have autopsies done in motor-vehicle crashes where the cause of death is seemingly apparent.

On the night of the collision, Mrs. Roberts was wearing dark clothes and crossing in a poorly lit area with the assistance of a walker when she was hit by Perry, who cooperated with police.

Showing no obvious signs of impairment, Perry was ticketed by police only for failure to yield to a pedestrian. A blood draw done on him that night was analyzed, and about eight weeks later, the state crime lab reported finding cocaine in his system.

The more-serious felony charge was filed against him in May 2017. His case has been continued ever since.

Assistant State's Attorney Will Lynch persuaded the judge that based on Moore's experience — he's been director of trauma at Carle for about six years — and his observation of injuries from "5,000 to 8,000" vehicle collisions, he was qualified to render an opinion.

It will be up to the jury to decide what weight to give that testimony, Dill reminded the defense lawyers. Lawlyes is teaming up with her husband, Doug, a Westville attorney, to represent Perry.

The trial is expected to last until Friday.

If convicted, Perry could face a maximum of 14 years in prison, although the offense is probationable.

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