URBANA — A Champaign County jury Friday convicted a Champaign man of aggravated leaving the scene of an accident involving death and aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol.
Albert Fleming, 21, of the 1500 block of Williamsburg Drive, faces penalties ranging from probation to three to 29 years in prison in connection with the Oct. 13, 2012, death of Anthony Pauls, 22, a University of Illinois student from Lake in the Hills.
Testimony in the week-long trial before Judge John Kennedy was that Fleming was driving east on University Avenue just west of Race Street when his car collided with Mr. Pauls, who was crossing University from north to south.
After two hours of deliberation, the five men and seven women on the jury also acquitted Fleming of an alternative count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol alleging his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.08 percent or greater.
Testifying in his own defense Thursday, a tearful Fleming admitted that he kept going after striking Mr. Pauls, even though his windshield had been shattered by the impact, but he denied he was impaired.
"I saw someone run into the left side of my car," Fleming said. "It was unavoidable."
Asked by his attorney, Baku Patel of Urbana, why he didn't stop, Fleming continued to weep.
"I got scared," he said.
Mr. Pauls was found moments later by other passing motorists.
The accident happened about 11:50 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2012. Not long after, an Urbana patrol officer spotted Fleming's damaged windshield and stopped the car a couple of blocks from where Mr. Pauls had been hit. Fleming maintained that his windshield had been broken by a tree branch but police detained him, having heard of Mr. Pauls' injuries by then.
Because of the severe injuries to Mr. Pauls, who died about eight hours later, Fleming was forced to submit to a blood draw. A state crime lab analyst testified Fleming's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.11 percent, just over the 0.08 limit for an Illinois motorist to be presumed intoxicated. The blood draw was done about two hours after the collision.
Patel argued that the few sips of cognac that Fleming admitted he had taken before leaving his home about 11:40 p.m. had not been absorbed into his body so as to render him impaired. Patel had called an expert to testify about the effects of alcohol on people.
Patel noted that the two officers who first talked to Fleming when his car was stopped did not notice him being impaired or that he smelled of alcohol. They did note an odor of alcohol coming from the car, however, and found a pint bottle of Hennessy cognac, which Fleming's cousin, the front-seat passenger, admitted belonged to him.
Fleming told a police investigator who interviewed him about two hours after the collision that he had consumed about a half pint of the cognac and that he did feel he was "under the influence."
But when he testified Thursday, Fleming said by "under the influence" that he meant he had consumed any amount of alcohol. He denied being impaired while he was driving. And Patel argued that the state had presented no evidence to say what Fleming's blood-alcohol concentration was at the time of the collision.
Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dornik hammered away at the fact that Fleming knew he hit a person and kept on driving, indicating that "his ability to think and act with ordinary care was reduced," an element of any driving under the influence charge. What made the charge aggravated was that Fleming's consumption of alcohol was a contributing cause to Mr. Pauls' death.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton testified that Mr. Pauls' blood-alcohol concentration was 0.25 percent, three times the limit for a motorist to be presumed intoxicated, at the time of the collision. But it was multiple blunt force trauma that killed him, Denton testified.
Patel argued that Mr. Pauls came running at his client's car on the driver's side in an area that was not brightly lit and was not in a crosswalk or at an intersection.
"It is an accident. Nothing here was done intentionally. It was unavoidable," he said.
As for Fleming not stopping to render aid, Patel said "the stress and the fear got to him." Patel reminded the jury that his client had never been in trouble before, not even having a traffic ticket.
But Dornik countered that Denton said even if Mr. Pauls had been sober, his cause of death was still from multiple injuries from being hit by a car.
"Anthony shouldn't have been there," she said of Mr. Pauls' decision to cross a busy street without a crosswalk nearby, "but the defendant took risks and was not acting with ordinary care. He ran away from the scene of an accident someone died in because he was under the influence and he didn't want to get caught."
The five men and seven women deliberated about two hours before reaching their verdicts.
Kennedy set sentencing for July 29.