A woman killed when a vehicle hit her as she walked on a Breese highway last June had a blood-alcohol content three times the level at which a person is considered drunk in Illinois.
The blood-alcohol content for 23-year-old Lana Albert was 0.26 percent when a vehicle hit her June 8 on old U.S. 50, according to toxicology reports obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat. In Illinois, a person is considered intoxicated at 0.08 percent.
Jonathon Nast, 26, of Damiansville, has been charged with driving a pickup that hit Albert, leaving the scene, and then trying to destroy evidence by having the truck crushed at a salvage yard. Nast is charged with failure to report a crash involving death, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
As Nast’s tentative trial date of June 8 approaches, legal experts say Albert’s intoxication is something that could sway jurors — even though it probably shouldn’t.
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“Juries have absolute freedom to discuss whatever they want,” said Anders Walker, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. “The judge is not in the room, and they can certainly talk about things they’ve read or heard, and that can factor into their decision.”
He added, “I think you can say that, as an informal matter, juries consider all kinds of stuff all the time — what they’ve read, what they’ve seen on TV, what they’ve heard through the grapevine. That’s one of the reasons we have the jury system — they are the conscience of the community. If they have reason to believe this was an accident because the victim was really drunk and wandering through traffic, that can certainly play into their decision.”
William Schroeder, a law professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, agreed.
“Yes, it could creep into deliberations. It shouldn’t, but I think it could,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said prosecutors will likely try to block the toxicology results from being allowed into evidence.
“The prosecutor might worry about something like that,” Schroeder said. “It’s the same thing where in a homicide case, the defendant kills somebody who’s thought to be a not-very-nice person, a bad person, somebody who you might even say deserved his fate.”
Schroeder said the woman’s reason for being in the roadway should have nothing to do with whether the driver is guilty of leaving the scene.
“What matters is that the accident did occur — however it occurred — and he left. Period. End of story,” Schroeder said.
Walker said Nast’s defense attorney will likely try to have Albert’s toxicology results admitted into evidence.
“The defense may try to enter into evidence that this was a horrible accident, and the defendant panicked because he was afraid that he’d be prosecuted, he’d lose his job, he’d lose his kids, ruin his marriage, or whatever,” Walker said.
Walker paused for a second, then added: “Which he then tried to cover up.”
Nast and Albert had both been at the nearby Big Stix bar, though not together.
Nast is not charged with being drunk at the time. He was arrested in the days following the fatality, after he went to a scrap yard in Murphysboro and said he wanted his truck crushed. At that point, it would have been impossible to conduct tests to determine if Nast was drunk days earlier.
The charge of aggravated DUI involving a fatality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Ironically, though, even if Nast were provably intoxicated at the time, he would have been better off stopping at the scene, according to Walker. That’s because if Nast was facing a charge of being drunk or reckless at the time, a court would be more inclined to allow admission of evidence suggesting Albert’s own actions were also a factor.
“He probably would have never been charged,” Walker said. “The prosecutor would have learned that she was negligent and taking a risk, and probably wouldn’t have charged the guy.”
Nast’s attorney, Joseph B. Heiligenstein, declined comment on the case. Clinton County State’s Attorney John Hudspeth was not immediately available for comment.
Nast is free on a $2,500 cash bond. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has suspended Nast’s driving privileges, at Hudspeth’s request.
A judge in March gave Nast permission to leave Illinois, for overnight stays, while he works for a construction company.