Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Chicago Sun Times Road Rage Verdict

Driver guilty of mowing down

December 5, 2001


A jury on Tuesday found a Bellwood man guilty of using his Chevy
Tahoe SUV to intentionally run down a bicyclist in 1999 in a fit of
road rage.

As the verdict was read to a packed courtroom after two days of
deliberations, the family of Carnell Fitzpatrick wailed and cried out.
Fitzpatrick, 31, could face up to 60 years in prison after the jury
found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Tom McBride, 26, was killed on April 26, 1999, as he rode his
bicycle from his Oak Park home to his job in the Loop as a bicycle

Prosecutors argued that Fitzpatrick intentionally mowed down
McBride, while defense lawyers argued the death was an accident.

''When you have a 3-ton vehicle and maybe a 20-pound bicycle
there is no even match, it's very skewed,'' Assistant Cook County
State's Attorney Lynda Peters said. ''The message that is sent by this
verdict is that bicycles have the right to be out there. Tom McBride
had the right to be on that road.'' She said it was the first
vehicle-bike road rage case to be tried in Cook County.

Prosecutors said Fitzpatrick ran into McBride after the cyclist
slapped his hand on the hood of the SUV and swore at Fitzpatrick
who had nearly hit him as they traveled along the 5300 block of
West Washington.

A key witness told police and a grand jury that he saw Fitzpatrick
nearly hit McBride with his truck and then drive after him. Jerry
Carter III, however, recanted his testimony during the trial when it
was revealed that he had been threatened for speaking out.

Prosecutors then presented Carter's grand jury testimony and
statements he made to police on the day McBride died.

Jurors said that during their deliberations they compared Fitzpatrick's
truck to a weapon.

''We didn't believe Carnell wanted to murder him but he made a
decision to go after him by his actions,'' said a juror, who asked that
his name not be used.

During the nearly 16 hours of deliberations, jurors grappled with
possibly convicting Fitzpatrick of reckless homicide, a lesser offense.

They also said Carter's first statements to police and the grand jury
were more believable than his recantation and that witness testimony
by two other men backed up Carter's initial claims.

''We felt something was up,'' a juror said.

Fitzpatrick's family and friends were too upset to discuss the verdict.

''This is the wrong time to ask someone when their son has been
convicted of murder,'' a family member said.

But McBride's family applauded assistant state's attorneys Patrick
Kelly and Peters, who tried the case.

''The prosecutors did a great job, we are grateful to them,''
McBride's mother Mary Ellen said.

Nearly a half dozen of McBride's fellow bike messengers and other
bicyclists rode to the courthouse every day of the weeklong trial.

The verdict should send a message that cars must be more careful of
bicyclists' rights on the road, said George Christensen, a bike
messenger. He and McBride worked for the same company for
nearly seven years.

''It's nice to have this on the record, it's assurance that the law is
on our side,'' Christensen said. ''Vehicles are murder weapons. Had he
used a gun it would have been more clear cut.''

While McBride may have exacerbated the confrontation when he
swore at Fitzpatrick and hit his truck, it's something that bicycle
messengers grapple with every day. Along with bags and helmets
many carry repellent for protection against drivers, he said.

''When you're nearly killed out there, it's hard to let that pass,'' he
said as he broke down in tears. ''The toughest day was the day after
he was killed. He really liked being a messenger, I could feel his
presence that day.''

Chicago Tribune Road Rage Verdict

Cyclist's death was murder, jury decides

December 05, 2001|By Kirsten Scharnberg, Chicago Tribune staff reporter
In an emotional end to a complicated trial, Carnell Fitzpatrick was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday in a case Cook County prosecutors have called the first local incident of road rage in which a bicyclist was killed by an angry driver intent on seeking revenge for a minor traffic dispute.

"When you have a three-ton vehicle and maybe a 20-pound bicycle, that is no even match," Assistant State's Atty. Lynda Peters said moments after the verdict. "It's very skewed.
The verdict came after a Cook County jury had deliberated for more than 16 hours over two days. During that time, they had sent the judge a note asking for legal clarification about the definition of reckless homicide. The jury had been given the option of convicting Fitzpatrick on the lesser charge. They also were allowed to view for a second time a videotaped statement given by an eyewitness to the April 26, 1999, accident that left bike messenger Tom McBride, 26, dead.
Fitzpatrick, 31, faces 20 to 60 years in prison. He had been out of jail on bond throughout the five-day trial but was taken into custody after the ruling. He sobbed as sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom.

In the courtroom gallery, emotions were high on both sides of the aisle. Before the verdict was announced, a half dozen courthouse deputies came into the room, standing in the center of the room, between those who were there in support of Fitzpatrick and those who were family, friends and former colleagues of McBride.

When the verdict came, Fitzpatrick's wife screamed and ran from the room. Her sobs could still be heard inside the courtroom as Judge Kenneth J. Wadas polled the jury.

In the front row, Robert McBride, the victim's father, quietly shook and cried. His wife, Mary Ellen, leaned against a son, tears running down her cheeks.

"We're grateful for them," Mary Ellen McBride said of the state's attorney's office as she left the courtroom. "They put on an outstanding case."

One of the primary elements of the trial had been the eyewitness testimony of Jerry Carter III, a Chicago man who had been jogging near the scene of the accident in the 5300 block of West Washington Boulevard.

During pretrial motions, Carter had refused to testify about what he had told police and later a grand jury: that he had seen Fitzpatrick deliberately run down McBride after the cyclist shouted curse words during a near-collision. He had also refused to testify during the trial and had done so under orders of the judge, recanting what he had earlier told authorities.

Carter had claimed he had been threatened to not testify and had warned prosecutors that he would lie on the stand. Peters, one of the two prosecutors, said after the trial that the state's attorney's office has no plans to pursue perjury charges against Carter.

Throughout much of the trial, the courtroom was packed with Chicago-area bike messengers and sport cyclists. After the verdict, George Christensen broke down as he talked about McBride, a Chicago bike messenger for seven years with whom Christensen had worked for many years.
"My toughest day of messengering--through extreme cold, extreme heat, whatever--was the day after he was killed," Christensen said in the hallway outside Courtroom 301. "I could really feel his presence that day."

Christensen said he hoped the verdict would send a signal to drivers that "vehicles are murder weapons." He added that he thought the trial's outcome would give "bicyclists a little insurance that the law is on their side."

"It could have happened to any of us," he said. "We've all had these confrontations."

Fitzpatrick's lawyer, veteran defense attorney Sam Adam, declined to comment on the verdict.

Fitzpatrick, who was transported to the Cook County Jail, is due back in court on Jan. 15 for post-trial motions and possibly sentencing.