Elgin homeless man’s killing by fire extinguisher an accident, defense says
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org July 29, 2013 7:22PM
Updated: August 31, 2013 6:16AM
ST. CHARLES TWP. — Two years ago Aug. 11, at about 1:30 a.m. on a moonless night, then-22-year-old Yancarlo Garcia of Chicago threw a 15-pound fire extinguisher off the roof of the Fulton Street Parking Deck in downtown Elgin. Sixty feet below, it struck a 61-year-old homeless alcoholic named Richard Gibbons who had been sleeping on a sheet of cardboard atop some air conditioning units in an alley below between the parking garage and what was then the Prairie Rock restaurant.
Gibbons sustained grievous internal injuries. About three weeks later, on Sept. 4, 2011, the Army veteran died in Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
As Garcia’s trial on a first-degree murder charge got underway Monday, both his lawyers and the prosecutors trying to send him to prison agreed on that much. In opening statements to the jury, Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Engerman revealed a lot more about how the events of that fatal night came together. Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress agreed with most of that chronology and added more details.
But at the story’s finale, Childress presented a very different version of why Gibbons ended up dead. She said Garcia, now 24, threw the fire extinguisher blindly in a drunken and drug-addled rage, with no intention of hitting Gibbons. She argued that it bounced off the roof of a 15-foot-high walkway that connects the parking garage with the restaurant and actually struck Gibbons on a ricochet path.
Childress also theorized that while the missile from above crushed Gibbons’ pelvic bone, the illness that eventually killed him had more to do with his chronic alcoholism than it did with the injury.
Engerman and Childress said that Aug. 10-11, 2011, began with Garcia having a bad day at his home in Chicago, where he lived with a girlfriend and their baby. So he and his brother, Eduardo Garcia, began some heavy drinking and pot smoking. Already high and drunk, the attorney said, as night fell they drove out to Elgin. They rendezvoused with two Elgin women they knew, went to a liquor store and, at 1:30 a.m., decided to drive up onto the roof of the parking deck to enjoy the view.
Engerman said one of the women looked over the edge of the deck and called out that she could see a “bum” sleeping on top of the air conditioners below. The four visitors decided it would be good sport to wake up the man, so they began taunting him.
Childress said one of the women pretended to be a prostitute, offering sex to the “bum” below. Childress said that at first Gibbons just shouted angry words back at them.
When Gibbons stopped talking back, Engerman said, that was probably because he had started calling 911 on his cellphone, to complain to police about the harassment. But the prosecutor said he believes the Garcia brothers and the two women thought Gibbons had gone back to sleep, so they tried to reawake him by throwing a plastic bottle down on him, spraying the fire extinguisher’s contents over the side of the rampart, and finally throwing the fire extinguisher itself at the man below.
“This was not a prank,” Engerman said. “This was not a teenage notion. This was a knowing and deliberate action.”
But Childress said the attempt to spray the extinguisher down toward Gibbons failed. So in a fit of frustration, she said, Garcia just hurled the extinguisher over the side, never dreaming it would bounce off a walkway roof and injure Gibbons.
“He wasn’t aiming at Mr. Gibbons,” Childress said. “He was aiming at absolutely nothing except the ground.”
Engerman argued that medical treatments for Gibbons’ broken pelvis set off a succession of health problems that finally caused Gibbons’ organs to shut down. But Childress argued that the sepsis (bodywide poisoning) that caused this likely was set off by the fact that Gibbons already had cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, and heart problems.
Garcia’s fate will be decided by a jury of 11 women and one man. Most are age 40 or above. But the panel, picked Monday morning after some four hours of questioning, includes a 21-year-old woman and a young man who just graduated from St. Charles East High School. It also includes a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf and noted during jury-selection questioning that her religion forbids her to drink alcohol.