Metro-East News

Driver who police say caused fatal Frank Scott accident in 2018 won’t face a felony charge

While a traffic citation remains pending against a Fairview Heights man, a felony charge will not be filed in connection with a fatal crash on Frank Scott Parkway last fall in Swansea.

Christopher L. Pinion, 49, was given a citation of failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and a bench trial is scheduled for July 18. He could not be reached for comment.

Pinion was driving east in a 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer that collided with a westbound 2011 Nissan Versa driven by Andrew E. Duncan, who died in the crash on Sept. 24.

Illinois State Police investigators determined that Pinion’s SUV was going 53 mph, which was 8 mph above the 45-mph speed limit, when he collided with the driver’s side of Duncan’s car. Police said he failed to negotiate a right-hand curve in the roadway and continued straight.

A short time after the crash, Pinion “appeared to be either in shock or confused by what was taking place around him,” according to a Swansea police report. Officers later determined that Pinion did not have drugs or alcohol in his body and he was not using his cellphone at the time of the crash, according to investigative reports obtained by the BND.

Pinion told Swansea police he wasn’t sure where Duncan’s vehicle came from “but guessed Andrew was westbound on Frank Scott Parkway.

“Christopher said he couldn’t remember anything else, other than it was a big collision,” according to the Swansea report.

“It is an extremely sad event when someone loses their life due to a traffic crash,” Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the family who miss him. It always has the ‘feel’ that stronger charges should be issued but we must follow the law. He was charged with what the law would allow us to issue.”

Johnson said Duncan’s family told him that they did not want to comment.

The crash was reported at 6:20 a.m. and officers believe Duncan, 34, of Fairview Heights, was driving to his job in housekeeping at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, which is about two miles from the crash site.

Two nurses from Memorial Hospital did not witness the crash but had stopped to offer assistance. One of the nurses told police she started CPR on Duncan but found he was deceased.

Pinion declined medical treatment but agreed to go with a police officer to have a blood sample drawn at Memorial Hospital.

State investigation

Shortly after Swansea police officers arrived, the department requested the Illinois State Police accident reconstruction team to assist in the investigation.

This report was turned over to the Swansea Police Department in late February.

It said the primary cause of the crash was improper lane usage by Pinion and that the collision occurred in the westbound lane where Duncan was traveling.

While the state report listed improper lane usage as the primary cause of the crash, the actual citation that was filed was failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Johnson said the failure to reduce speed citation was kept after consultation with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“We presented all of this to the state’s attorney’s office and they believe the most appropriate traffic citation was failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his officers heard from the state’s attorney’s office in May that a felony charge would not be issued.

Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Allen, the spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said he could not comment on talks the prosecutor’s office had with the Swansea Police Department.

Allen said Pinion’s bench trial scheduled for May 30 was continued to this month because Pinion said he wanted to get an attorney. St. Clair County records do not yet indicate whether Pinion has obtained a defense attorney.

Both Pinion and Duncan had prior convictions in St. Clair County for traffic offenses. Most of Pinion’s cases were in the early 2000s and in the 1990s while Duncan’s most recent one was several years ago.

Crash analysis

The crash occurred in the westbound lane of Frank Scott Parkway about 1,000 feet east of Llewellyn Road. The collision was on a bend in Frank Scott Parkway and was in between Llewellyn Road and Sullivan Drive. Also, the site is where Frank Scott Parkway is only two lanes wide.

Both Pinion and Duncan were wearing seat belts, according to the state report.

The toxicology reports on both Pinion and Duncan showed that neither man had recently taken illegal drugs or drank alcohol.

A state trooper checked the onboard monitoring equipment on Pinion’s Trailblazer and determined he was traveling 53 mph at the time of the crash.

Pinion voluntarily allowed a Swansea detective to seize his cellphone and signed a permission form allowing officers to extract information from the phone.

Johnson said after “careful analysis,” investigators determined Pinion was not using his cellphone at the time of the crash.

“It was an accident, a horrible accident. One that you don’t ever want to see and really should be a reminder to everybody to focus on how you’re driving, what you’re doing,” Johnson said. “When you’re behind the wheel, it is the most important thing that you’re doing and we need to make sure that we stay in our lanes and slow down and be careful out there.”

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why did we report this story?

After a Fairview Heights man died in a crash in September in Swansea, the Illinois State Police reconstruction team was called to the scene to investigate. We wanted to give readers an update because it took about eight months for the state report to be completed and for prosecutors to make a final decision on what type of charge should be filed. A bench trial in the case is scheduled for July 18.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is from St. Louis.
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