WOODSTOCK – After about 3½ hours of deliberation Monday, a jury found a Marengo man guilty of driving drunk when he struck a 77-year-old truck driver who was walking across Route 20. The man died three weeks later.
Daniel K. Bending, 49, faces between three and 14 years in prison for his actions on April 18, 2008. However, if the judge finds that there were extraordinary circumstances, he could be sentenced to probation on the charge of aggravated driving under the influence.
Leonard Anderson had parked his tractor-trailer along Route 20 in Marengo to deal with a windshield wiper problem on the rainy evening. He got out of his truck and went to a nearby convenience store to use the phone and get coffee.
About 8:45 p.m., he was struck by Bending’s 1998 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. His shoes were torn from his feet and parts of his dentures were ripped out of his mouth.
Bending did not take a Breathalyzer test, but his blood-alcohol content about 2½ later was .081, according to crime lab results.
An expert for the prosecution testified that Bending’s BAC likely was .117 at the time he hit Anderson.
A defense expert said that based on variations in alcohol absorption and expulsion rates, it was possible that Bending was under the legal .08 limit for driving while intoxicated.
Experts for both sides also had conflicting opinions about what caused Anderson’s death on May 11, about three weeks after he was hit.
The defense argued that Anderson was suffering from DTs due to alcohol withdrawal and the additional stress caused a heart attack, which starved his brain of oxygen. Anderson’s family eventually decided to discontinue life support.
Prosecutors said that it was a misdiagnosis; Anderson was not a heavy drinker. Even if he were, they said, the fact that he was laid up in the hospital because of his injuries and unable to get alcohol still were the results of Bending’s decision to drink and drive.
“He died because his face went through the windshield of [Bending’s] Monte Carlo,” Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Zalud said. “No matter how tough he was, his body couldn’t take it anymore.”
Bending’s attorney, assistant public defender Kim Messer, said Anderson made the mistake of crossing the street at night when it was dark and raining, and Bending made the mistake of briefly taking his eyes off the road to light a cigarette.
The accident was going to happen under these circumstances, she said.
She said prosecutors were “overcompensating” for what they didn’t show the jury, such as two surveillance videos at two bars where Bending was drinking.
The video that was shown was of Bending in the back of a squad car, at times making and receiving calls on his cellphone. He says that he’s “buzzed,” but not drunk.
“It’s a man who was terrified,” Messer said. “He states right in there, ‘I’m shaking so bad.’ “
Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said Bending wanted to leave the scene but couldn’t because his windshield was smashed in so he couldn’t see out of it.
No matter how you slice it, Kenneally said, Anderson was in the hospital because of Bending’s actions.
“Driving under the influence is the most selfish thing you can do because you’re putting other people at risk,” he said.
Bending’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 10.