Was Elgin fire extinguisher death 'unlucky bounce' or deliberate action?
Did a drunk and high Yancarlo Garcia purposely launch a fire extinguisher from the fifth floor of a downtown Elgin parking deck in August 2011, striking a homeless man below, ultimately causing his death?
Or was Garcia's attempt to wake up 61-year-old Richard Gibbons, who was arguing with Garcia and his friends, an unlucky bounce that injured a chronically ill alcoholic who had myriad health problems?
A Kane County jury will decide this week whether Garcia, of the 1100 block of North Lawndale Avenue, is guilty of first-degree murder.
"This was not a prank. This was not a teenage mistake," Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Bill Engerman told a jury during opening arguments Monday. "It was a knowing and deliberate action."
Engerman said Garcia, his brother and two girls went partying in Elgin, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. The four ended up on the top floor of a parking deck at 245 Fulton St. at about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 11 and saw Gibbons sleeping in an alcove area near some air conditioning units below where two alleys connected.
The four began to antagonize Gibbons, saying, "There's a bum." Gibbons yelled back at them. The four began to throw items down at Gibbons, first a water bottle and finally a fire extinguisher, Engerman said.
Engerman said Garcia grabbed a 15-pound fire extinguisher with two hands and launched it down at Gibbons from nearly 62 feet above. Engerman said Gibbons was on the phone calling 9-1-1 when the impact shattered his pelvis. He died on Sept. 4, 2011.
"The internal bleeding caused a chain reaction, which caused his organs to shut down," said Engerman. "It was like the first domino in a row of dominoes to fall."
Public Defender Kelli Childress acknowledged that Garcia and the other three were drunk and high on marijuana and acting like "punks" toward Gibbons. But she argued that from Garcia's vantage point, it was impossible to directly hit Gibbons and it was never the intent of Garcia, who was 22 at the time, to hit Gibbons.
"(Garcia) wasn't aiming at anything at all, other than the ground below, to startle Mr. Gibbons," Childress said. "The evidence will show (Garcia) did not believe there was any way he was going to hit anyone."
Childress said Gibbons was only hit because the extinguisher took an "unlucky bounce" off a covered, metal pedestrian walkway on the deck's second floor that connected the deck to another building.
The extinguisher fell probably 15 feet as opposed to 62 feet and Gibbons' injury was not as severe as prosecutors painted it to be, Childress said.
She said Gibbons was already in poor health -- he was an alcoholic who had cirrhosis -- and those were the factors that lead to complications that caused his death.
If convicted, Garcia faces between 20 and 60 years in prison.
The trial before Judge Karen Simpson is expected to last four or five days.
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