Lawyer for cop under fire for deadly crash talks

August 26, 2008 4:58:07 PM PDT
The attorney for a Chicago police officer who was involved in a deadly accident is making his first comment since ABC7 first aired video of his client, John Ardelean, drinking at a bar before two young men were killed.After the video was aired publicly, the Cook County state's attorney reopened the criminal case against Ardelean. One victim's family and their attorney are hoping the tape will help get justice. But the police officer's attorney is confident the tape and other facts will prove his client is innocent.

Minutes after Ardelean left a North Side bar, the off-duty cop was involved in an accident that killed two people. While bar surveillance tape shows Ardelean doing what appears to be several shots, including one with the bartender and another poured into his mouth by a woman, Ardelean's attorney says the tape does not prove the officer is guilty of a crime.

"For the prosecutors to bring a successful case against my client, they have to prove not just that he was intoxicated beyond a reasonable doubt, but they have to prove he was the cause of the accident," said Tom Needham, Ardelean's attorney.

Needham says his client was neither drunk nor the cause of the Thanksgiving Day crash that killed Eric Lagunas and Miguel Flores in Roscoe Village.

A judge ruled there was not enough evidence to pursue felony charges. And after reopening the case, the Cook County state's attorney agreed. But at the time, the videotape was not used as evidence. While prosecutors had possession of the tape, they say they had an incomplete copy.

"That makes no sense. They were given the videotape by police within two to three days of the traffic collision," said Needham.

Regardless, the Cook County state's attorney is reopening the case.

"Under the law and under the facts as they exist now, there's no basis to prosecute John Ardelean for a felony," Needham said.

The facts include testimony from the Martini Ranch bartender that states he served Ardelean three alcoholic drinks and a shot over a two-hour period. The bartender says the other shots were water.

Ardelean did not take a breathalyzer until seven and half hours after the accident. He registered half under the legal limit.

The evidence also includes several witnesses who saw Ardelean speeding and passing cars on Damen. An investigator concluded Ardelean may have been going as fast as 60 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. But the same investigator concluded that the driver of the victim's car, Lagunas, blew through a stop sign.

A surviving passenger that was in Lagunas' car says his friend did not blow through the stop sign.

Ardelean's attorney also pointed out that the young men who were killed had alcohol in their systems, but a medical examiner's report showed that they were under the legal limit.


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