Jury hears doomed Elgin homeless man’s plea for aid after extinguisher blow
By Dave Gathman email@example.com July 30, 2013 1:02PM
Updated: September 1, 2013 6:25AM
ST. CHARLES TWP. — As the murder trial of Yancarlo Garcia entered its second day in Kane County Circuit Court, the jury heard a two-minute recording of victim Rick Gibbons explaining to a 911 operator how he had been struck by a fire extinguisher thrown from the top story of Elgin’s Fulton Street Parking Deck.
The prosecution played two 911 recordings made from Gibbons’ cellphone calls on the night of Aug. 10-11, 2011. In the first, at 1:37 a.m., the 61-year-old homeless man could be heard as soon as the operator answers, shouting what sounds like “Ouch” and then a swear word. The rest of that minute-long call consists of nothing but chaotic noise and swearing by Gibbons, plus what sounds like him shouting, “You’re dead!” to someone.
Gibbons, 61, then hung up. But a minute later, he called back to 911. In this call, he calmly explains to 911 dispatcher Nichol Sharp how what he believed to be teenagers “threw a fire extinguisher at me and hit me in the stomach.”
“This is crap!” Gibbons adds angrily. But then he remains calm as he explains to the operator that four or five young people somewhere above him had thrown the extinguisher from an upper story of the garage, next to which he had been sleeping atop some air conditioning units at the junction of two alleys. When 911 operator Sharp pumps him for details as police rush toward him, Gibbons tells Sharp that he never got a good look at the “teens,” he can no longer hear them, he believes they were white people, and the fire extinguisher is on the ground next to him.
According to the rival attorneys’ opening arguments on Monday, Garcia, 24, of Chicago, plus his brother Eduardo Garcia and two Elgin girls began teasing and harassing Garcia from the parking deck’s roof at about 1:35 a.m. after the Garcia brothers had spent the day drinking and smoking marijuana.
Gibbons died after spending the next three weeks in Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
The longest testimony Tuesday came from Dr. Joseph Lo, who was then an emergency room physician at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin, and from Cook County Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Adrienne Segovia, who performed the autopsy on Gibbons’ body.
The doctors explained how he came into Saint Joseph with his left iliac (hip bone) splintered. He was helicoptered to Lutheran General, where doctors discovered he was bleeding internally. Surgery closed the bleeding vessel. But Segovia said stress from the surgery kicked off a succession of health problems that finally killed Gibbons on Sept. 4.
The defense argues that Garcia did not aim the extinguisher at Gibbons and that before hitting him, the extinguisher bounced off the roof of a second-floor walkway that connected the parking deck with what was then Prairie Rock restaurant.
For an hour, cross-examining Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress tried to get Segovia to admit that Gibbons’ death may have been from natural causes. Segovia said her autopsy records and Gibbons’ medical charts show that before the parking deck attack, he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.
“I don’t know when he would have died” if he had not been injured, “but when he died on Sept. 5, 2011, it was because of the almost-domino effects that began with the fire extinguisher striking his abdomen,” the pathologist said.
Lo revealed that when Gibbons arrived at Saint Joseph, the injured man’s blood-alcohol content was .278, or more than three times the legal limit for driving.
Lo said the bone that broke was so thick and strong that it must have been hit with “a tremendous amount of force.”
But when Childress asked Segovia to hold the 15-pound fire extinguisher, Segovia said that if it had fallen onto Gibbons from the walkway roof about 15 feet above him, the blow would have been powerful enough to break the bone.
Before the jury entered the courtroom Tuesday, Judge Karen Simpson granted a prosecution motion that the defense attorneys be prohibited, except in limited circumstances, from mentioning how much Garcia and his companions had been drinking and using drugs before the attack.
After Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Engerman made the motion, with jury members still in a back room, Simpson sent the lawyers from both sides scurrying back to their offices to find previous cases that could back up their stands on that issue, with a 20-minute deadline on that homework assignment.
The judge finally agreed with Engerman’s argument that because voluntary intoxication is no longer a defense against a criminal charge in Illinois, emphasizing the drinking and pot-smoking could unfairly cause the jury to feel that Garcia had no responsibility for his actions.
Elgin Police Officer Scott Holmes testified at length about exactly how much someone standing on the top floor of the parking deck could see of the alley below. Garcia’s attorneys argue that Garcia couldn’t see well into the alley because of poor lighting and the bridge-like walkway between him and the ground.