Coroner: 85-year-old carjacking victim was burned alive

News-DemocratAugust 18, 2011 

— An 85-year-old Belleville woman killed in a carjacking was alive when her killers set her car on fire, according to the coroner's report.

Yoko Cullen was carjacked in May after leaving a bingo hall in Collinsville. Her car was found burned in East St. Louis and was towed to an auto shop in Madison, where her body was found in the trunk.

But Cullen was alive when the car was set on fire, according to testimony from the Madison County coroner's investigation presented at the inquest Wednesday.

"We found soot residue in her airway passages, so we know she was breathing and alive at the time," said chief deputy coroner Roger Smith.

Smith said there was no way to know if Cullen was conscious, and would not speculate whether Cullen would have survived if the car had not been set on fire.

Three people have been charged in the murder, including one of Cullen's fellow bingo players, LaTosha A. Cunningham, 38, of Belleville. Also charged are DaQuan D. Barnes, 18, of Granite City and DeMarcus Barnes, 27, of Belleville. All three face charges of first-degree murder.

They are accused of striking her with a tire iron.

The inquest officially ruled Cullen's death a homicide.

Also Wednesday, the death of Ricky Jenkins Jr. was presented to the coroner's jury. Jenkins, 32, was found in an alley in Madison with a gunshot wound to the abdomen and died later at an area hospital. The Major Case Squad investigated the case for six days before turning it back over to Madison police, who said they have some suspects.

"We've developed some leads and we believe we know who the players are," said Madison Detective Mike Renth.

No one has yet been charged in Jenkins' death. The inquest officially ruled it a homicide Wednesday.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2501.