Rain was falling the April night an off-duty Alton firefighter drove down Vandalia Street and came upon a woman lying on the sidewalk, her belongings strewn about all around her.
Rene King had been walking home from the American Legion in Collinsville on April 29 when she stepped off the curb, presumably to cross the street, and was struck by a 2001 Mazda traveling at about 45 mph, according to police reports recently obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat through a Freedom of Information request.
She was just a few houses away from the home she shared with her boyfriend, and investigators would later determine she had been thrown forward 67 feet when the car hit her.
Steve Perry doesn’t remember much about that night almost a year ago, but the firefighter said he recalls that she was still breathing when he pulled his truck over and got out to help. And she was still breathing when medical crews took her away in an ambulance.
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“I remember thinking she was in bad shape, and I made sure the woman on the phone told them she was critical,” Perry said recently. “She handed me the phone — I know the Collinsville guys and their staffing situation.”
Officers would soon discover that then-22-year-old Max P. Minton had been driving home from his shift at Hurricane’s Bar when he hit King, according to police reports. He told investigators he panicked and drove the Mazda back to Hurricane’s parking lot without getting out to check on King.
Tasey Moore was driving on Vandalia Street when she saw King, so she turned around, stopped and called 911. She told police in a follow-up interview she initially thought King was suffering from an overdose. She left when paramedics arrived, telling police she had her 6-year-old daughter with her.
About that same time, Perry drove by and pulled his car around with his girlfriend. He said initially, he did not see King lying there and was more concerned about the car stopped near her.
“I saw a car acting up; I was more focused on that to make sure they didn’t back up in the lane and hit me,” he said.
Gentry J. Hertlitz also told police she was at the American Legion for trivia night when she thought she saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. She said she called her sister, who had just left the bar, and asked her to check the area.
Tierney A. Nessel did what her sister asked and found King lying on the ground, her belongings “strewn about as though she had been hit by a car,” according to a police report.
Meanwhile, Minton called his mother while in the Hurricane’s Bar parking lot, he told an officer later, to tell her what happened. Minton and his mother went to the scene as emergency crews tended to King, and police began their investigation.
King died the next day, April 30, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
An autopsy would later reveal she had cannabinoids, amphetamines, meth and alcohol in her system.
King worked at Four Seasons Sheraton in Fairview Heights and had gone out for drinks after her shift with a coworker and an old friend before walking home. Police believe King had consumed two Bud Lights, a shot of Jägermeister and a “Jäger bomb” that night at the American Legion.
Officers interviewed everyone involved, including Minton. He told police he had a three drinks following his shift at Hurricane’s and had a “few sips" of a cranberry and vodka at the VFW, about two blocks from the American Legion.
When he hit King, he was headed back to Hurricane’s to get a CD he forgot, reports said.
“He did not see the person prior to striking them, but saw a black shadow figure after he had heard the impact,” Collinsville Officer Paul Kilquist wrote in a report.
Another officer reported the Mazda’s passenger-side windshield was “smashed in as though someone had hit the hood and then hit the windshield.” Minton estimated he hit King somewhere between the stop sign at High School Avenue and the Wallace Realtors sign near Mary Street.
Minton submitted to alcohol testing at the scene of the crash and had a 0.074 percent blood-alcohol content, according to police reports. His BAC was logged at 0.063 at the Collinsville Police Department shortly after the crash.
The threshold for a drunk-driving citation in Illinois is 0.08 percent in Illinois.
Detective Keith Jackson prepared an in-depth report on King’s death for the Metro East Crash Assistance Team.
At the end of the report, he stated King had dropped a small electronic device in the parking lot of the American Legion before crossing westbound across both lanes of Vandalia Street.
“Rene King walked southbound on the sidewalk, paused briefly, and then stepped on Vandalia Street and walked eastbound for 1.5 seconds,” Jackson wrote.
That’s when Minton hit her at a minimum speed of 44 mph, without braking prior to the impact, according to police reports.
“It is my opinion that the main contributory cause of the traffic crash was that Rene King failed to yield to Minton as she crossed the roadway,” Jackson wrote. “... While Minton was traveling above the posted speed limit and in excess of safe road conditions due to the weather, he would have still struck Rene King due to her re-entering the roadway nearly immediately in front of Minton’s vehicle.”
Minton was charged Dec. 21 with driving under the influence and reckless driving, both listed Class A misdemeanors. A third charge was dismissed in January.
A court spokeswoman confirmed he is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Thursday.
His defense attorney, James Gomric, declined to comment on the ongoing case.
Following her death, King’s son, Christopher McKay, filed a wrongful-death suit against Minton, the Collinsville VFW and Hurricane’s Bar and Grill in late October.
The suit alleges that Minton acted negligently while driving his vehicle and that King’s death was a direct result of that negligence.
The Collinsville VFW and Hurricane’s Bar and Grill were included in the suit for allegedly serving Minton alcohol before the accident, directly resulting in Minton’s negligence and King’s death.
McKay’s lawyer, E. Ryan Bradley, commented via email. When asked about King's responsibility in contributing to the accident, he said he believes the comparative-fault doctrine will apply to the case.
In Illinois, comparative fault means that a plaintiff can be awarded damages from a defendant only if the plaintiff’s degree of fault in the incident does not exceed 49 percent.
Minton’s lawyer in the suit, Kevin P. Clark, did not return calls for comment. In a response to the motion, he wrote an argument denying the allegations and arguing that the complaint contained legal conclusions rather than factual allegations.
A count against Minton in the lawsuit, which alleged his conduct was done with an “evil motive or with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm,” was dismissed by a judge in January.
Clark also argued that King’s death was a result of King’s own negligence, saying she failed to look before crossing the street and failed to yield to the vehicle.
Hurricane’s Bar & Grill is represented by John T. Richmond in the lawsuit. He also did not return calls for comment but denied allegations in a response submitted to the court, arguing that King’s death was a result of actions of other parties.
He also argued “Minton was not intoxicated at the time he departed Hurricane’s, and any alcohol consumed by Max Minton at Hurricane’s did not cause his intoxication if he later became intoxicated.”
James A. Wilke, attorney for the VFW, declined to comment because the case is pending.