Reckless homicide trial begins in Lake County
BY RUTH ANN KRAUSE Post-Tribune correspondent December 2, 2013 4:58PM
Updated: January 4, 2014 6:18AM
A Lake Superior Court jury began hearing testimony Monday in the reckless homicide trial of a man charged in a hit-and-run crash that killed one Lake County correctional officer and injured three others.
Jason R. Cozmanoff, 43, Lakes of the Four Seasons, has pleaded not guilty to charges including criminal recklessness, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death, and misdemeanor reckless driving in the crash that killed Britney Meux, 25.
During opening statements to the six-man, six-woman jury, deputy prosecutor Mark Watson said Meux and fellow officers David Murchek, Delano Scaife and Latasha Johnson had finished a 12-hour shift at the jail and worked out at the gym inside the building before going outside to run around the perimeter of the Lake County Government Center. As they got onto 93rd Avenue, the four were hit from behind by a 2002 GMC Yukon, which fled the scene.
The four were running single-file, with Meux in the lead, followed by Johnson, Scaife and Murchek, Watson said.
Both men were catapulted east of Johnson into a ditch, and Meux was further east toward the entrance to the government center by the administration building, just south of 93rd Avenue. Watson said evidence would show Cozmanoff was traveling 78 mph five seconds before impact, and was still going 65 mph one second before impact, based on information from the vehicle’s airbag control mechanism.
During his opening statement, defense attorney James Thiros told jurors it was dark at 6:53 p.m. on March 6, 2012, when the crash occurred and that the three officers will tell different versions of where they were at the point of impact. Thiros said evidence would show none of the officers wore reflective clothing or shoes and that investigators found no tire marks in the grass, which was soft from a recent snow and thaw.
“The evidence will support that the impact occurred on the pavement of 93rd Avenue,” Thiros said.
Johnson, the first witness, said she and the others were running east toward Main Street to the right of the white line at the edge of the road for a few hundred feet before they planned to take the east entrance road and run along the road that circles the parking lots at the complex.
“I heard — I don’t know what it was but I turned and there was a really big, blue vehicle coming toward me. The next thing I knew I was on the ground,” Johnson said.
Deputy prosecutor Kathleen O’Halloran, asked Johnson to show jurors her scars. O’Halloran suffered a broken left arm that was treated surgically with a rod and screws.
A shoulder injury also required surgery. Johnson said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Murchek, now a Lake County police officer, said he and the others ran along 93rd Avenue where the grass meets the gravel on the edge of the road, to the right of the white line. “I heard gravel being kicked up, looked over my left shoulder and saw a windshield and hood,” he said.
Jurors heard a recording of a 911 call that Murchek placed. On the call, he can be heard calling, “Meux, Meux,” trying to find his colleague.
Murchek had broken bones on the outside of his right foot and bruised Achilles tendons. He wore casts and had several months of physical therapy.
Thiros questioned whether Murchek suffered any injuries to his left side, which would have been closest to the road. Murchek said he had no cuts, scrapes or bruises there, just soreness.