A driver charged with killing a motorcyclist in Naperville last week was cut off in traffic and attacked on the side of the road just moments before the accident, his attorney said in court Thursday.
Michael Moreno, 31, of Plainfield, made his first appearance before DuPage County Judge George Bakalis. Moreno is accused of driving under the influence of marijuana and fleeing the June 13 crash that killed 63-year-old Gerald Puglise of Lombard.
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Defense attorney Paul DeLuca said Moreno was driving home from work on westbound Ogden Avenue when a Honda driven by a 16-year-old girl cut him off. He said words were exchanged, and a passenger from the other vehicle threw something -- possibly coins -- at his client's Infiniti M45, prompting them to pull over.
DeLuca said a male passenger with the teen punched Moreno and threatened to shoot him before both returned to their cars and continued west. He said Moreno was following the other vehicle in an effort to photograph its license plate when he allegedly turned in front of Puglise's oncoming motorcycle at River Road.
Moreno tried to flag down a police officer who happened to be at a gas station on the corner after the accident, his attorney said. DeLuca said Moreno stopped about a block away.
"It's not as if my client struck this vehicle and left," DeLuca said.
But prosecutors gave a much different account.
Assistant State's Attorney Joe Lindt said it was Moreno who went into the other driver's lane and then instigated the roadside confrontation by repeatedly braking with the teen behind him. He said there was an argument on the side of the road but no physical violence.
Lindt said the teen then continued west with Moreno behind her before she pulled through the gas station parking lot at River Road in an attempt to get away.
"There are independent witnesses who corroborate the 16-year-old's account of events," Lindt said, adding no weapons were found in her vehicle.
He said Puglise laid down his motorcycle in an attempt to avoid a collision but was killed instantly when Moreno's rear tire struck his head. He said Moreno "didn't stop or render any aid" before police stopped him nearby.
Moreno has an extensive history of driving offenses but had a valid driver's license at the time of the crash. If convicted of aggravated DUI, he could face up to 14 years in prison. He would not be eligible for probation unless he can prove "extraordinary circumstances" warrant it, prosecutors said.
Bakalis reduced Moreno's bail to $500,000 from $750,000 after hearing varying accounts of the accident. Moreno would have to post $50,000 to be released, but DeLuca said it wasn't likely. He said Moreno lives with his mother and has custody of two children.
Lindt said the circumstances of the roadside altercation aren't necessarily relevant to whether Moreno is criminally responsible.
"Basically, all we have to prove is he had cannabis in his system and caused the death," he told the judge.
In addition to traffic offenses, Moreno has a history of other run-ins with the law.
He was charged as a juvenile in 1995 with aggravated battery for harassing and fondling a 14-year-old girl on his school bus, Lindt said. He also has convictions for drug trafficking and tampering with witnesses, and served time in prison for an attempted robbery in Florida, according to prosecutors.
Moreno is due back in court June 29.