No charges to be filed in deadly accident

May 7, 2008 7:46:26 PM PDT
Prosecutors have closed the case of Chicago police officer John Ardelean, once accused of driving drunk in a fatal crash.On Wednesday, the families of the two men killed in the accident were outraged by the decision.

The charges against Ardelean were dropped in February.

But prosecutors had agreed to reopen the case. The families of the two men killed in the crash learned they will not get the justice they hoped for.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office says that after an independent investigation, there is insufficient evidence to bring additional charges against Officer Ardelean. Prosecutors conducted a full review of the case after a judge found there was no probable cause to proceed with the case. The state's attorney's office explained its decision in a meeting Wednesday morning with the families of the two victims.

There were no other words that come to Jose Lagunas' mind but "anger," when it comes explaining how he feels about the Cook County state's attorney's decision not to pursue charges against a Chicago police officer that was involved in a Thanksgiving Day accident that killed Lagunas' brother, Erick, and his friend Miguel Flores.

Ray Barajas was a passenger in Erick Lagunas' car. He was not injured in the crash.

"I heard this loud noise like something exploded. And we get pushed pretty much, pretty much on top of the sidewalk," said Barajas.

Barajas says he and his friends were driving down N. Damen near W. Oakdale when a Dodge Durgango driven by off-duty officer Ardelean was driving on the wrong side of the street. The truck was headed toward them head-on.

"I heard Erick scream and he saw the truck coming," said Barajas.

Eric Lagunas was the driver. Following an intensive investigation, an independent accident reconstruction expert hired by the state's attorneys office found that Lagunas rolled through the stop sign and accelerated when he spotted Ardelean's SUV. Barajas says Lagunas never went through a stop sign.

The Flores and Lagunas families are convinced Ardelean was drunk at the time of the accident. The families' attorney says there is videotape of Ardelean drinking at a Chicago bar for three hours before the accident.

"This officer was not given a breathalyzer until almost eight hours after the occurrence. He was brought to his own district, the 19th district," said Daniel O'Connor, victim's family attorney.

Ardelean was brought to the same police district where the officer works. O'Conner says at the scene, Ardelean never called 911 or helped the victims. The victims' families are convinced this is a case of police officers covering for one of their own.

"Maybe I should become a police officer and get away with killing two people is the message," said Nancy Flores, victim's sister.

The families of both victims are pursuing a civil case against Ardelean and the Martini Ranch, the North Side bar that apparently served the officer drinks.

The Chicago Police Department said it continues its investigation into the actions of Ardelean. After the November accident, he was relieved of his police powers and remains on paid leave.

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