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Father testifies about events day after fatal hit-and-run



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Updated: January 6, 2014 1:04PM

The father of a Lakes of the Four Seasons man on trial for reckless homicide said it wasn’t until the day after the fatal hit-and-run crash that killed a Lake County correctional officer and injured three others that he learned of the incident from a TV news account.

James Cozmanoff, the father of Jason R. Cozmanoff, testified that he received a phone call from his son around 7 p.m. March 6, 2012, that he’d hit something and that the airbag had deployed and struck him.

Cozmanoff, 43, has pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless homicide, criminal recklessness, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and failure to stop after an accident resulting in serious bodily injury in a crash that killed Britney Meux, 25, and injured David Murchek, Delano Scaife and Latasha Johnson.

James Cozmanoff said it was difficult to hear his son, who called him as he was heading home from dinner, because of background noise like the sound of wind. Questioned by Kathleen O’Halloran, trial supervisor with the Lake County prosecutor’s office, the elder Cozmanoff said he looked at the damaged 2002 GMC Yukon, which his son pulled into the garage at his home on St. Andrews Court. He said he didn’t detect any odor of alcohol on his son or any signs of intoxication.

In a deposition taken in June, James Cozmanoff said his son told him, “You know, maybe I hit a deer. I don’t know.” But in court Wednesday, the father said he didn’t recall his son making that statement and acknowledged that he never saw any tufts of deer hide or hoof marks on the SUV.

Cozmanoff said his son was living with him because Jason Cozmanoff and his wife, Piper, were going through a divorce. The next day, the father said they learned of the crash when they turned on the TV. At about 7 p.m., Cozmanoff, his father and defense attorney James Thiros arrived at the Lake County police department, where they agreed to allow police seize the Yukon, which had extensive damage to the windshield, hood, right fender and front passenger window. The passenger mirror was missing, and the windshield and window had large holes.

Lake County police Cmdr. Dennis Matthew Eaton said Sheriff John Buncich called him out to work.

He spent 15 to 30 minutes to get an overview of the crime scene, then returned to his office and began outlining tasks for detectives to aid in the investigation, which included looking for video surveillance footage of the 6:53 p.m. crash or the fleeing vehicle and identifying the debris from car parts that were strewn along the eastbound lanes of 93rd Avenue north of the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point.

The four officers were running east single-file along a small stretch of the four-lane street, to the right of the white fog line, when they were struck, according to earlier testimony.

Also testifying was Dr. John Cavanaugh, forensic pathologist with the Lake County coroner’s office, who said Meux died from multiple blunt force traumatic injuries from being hit by a vehicle.

Several injuries alone were fatal, including a laceration or tear of the brain stem and the aorta. She also suffered injuries that sheared the rib cage from the spine and at least a dozen separate bone fractures. Cavanaugh noted an impact fracture on Meux’ left femur, about 19.5 inches above her instep.

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