When Illinois State Trooper Mike Conner arrived at the scene of a one-vehicle car crash Sept. 22, 2012, on Bittersweet Road east of Farmdale Road near East Peoria he found four men looking for their friend.
Mario A. Reyes-Lopez, 23, of Elgin was ejected from the sport utility vehicle the five men were riding in when the driver lost control on the curves in the road.
A Tazewell County coroner’s jury ruled Reyes-Lopez’s death was an accident during an inquest Jan. 24 in Pekin.
The four men were worried Reyes-Lopez was under the SUV, Conner said.
“They were looking for their friend but they didn’t have flashlights so they were not very successful,” Conner added during his testimony at the inquests.
Reyes-Lopez was pronounced dead at 5:30 a.m. after police found his body under the SUV by police. Conner said he was called to the site of the crash about 4 a.m.
Dr. John Ralston’s autopsy report said Reyes-Lopez died of compressional asphyxia from the car resting on him, keeping him from breathing.
Conner said the five men had been at a party early that evening. Farmdale Road near Bittersweet is curvy and generally, is not a problem for those familiar with the road, Conner said.
“The driver said this was the first time he had been on the road,” Conner said.
The driver, Joseph W. Owens, 20, of Niles, lost control of the car when he tried to over correct for the curves. The tires dropped off the shoulder of the road and the vehicle rolled, the trooper said as he explained to the jury how the accident occurred. The car came to rest about 40 feet off the road near a group of trees.
None of the five men in the car were wearing a seat belt.
According to previously issued police reports, an open bottle of vodka was found in the vehicle, and the results of a breath test showed Owens’ blood alcohol content to be .154 — nearly double the legal limit for people of legal age to drink.
Owens was charged in September in Tazewell County Circuit Court with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in the death of another, as well as driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal transportation of liquor, improper lane usage and failure to wear a seat belt.
Aggravated DUI is a felony charge that could result in a prison sentence if Owens is found guilty.
Wesley H. Stamper, 18, of Buckhorn, Ky., Brandon J. Saylor, 18, of Salyersville, Ky. and Stephen E. Davidson, 19, of Hyden, Ky., were the other three passengers in the vehicle. All five men went to school together at Illinois Central College.
Page 2 of 2 - Reporter Ken Harris of GateHouse News Service contributed to this story.