Paramedic recalls Laura Engelhardt asking, 'Am I going to die?'

Eighteen-year-old Laura Engelhardt had one question as paramedics rushed her by ambulance to the hospital after a knife attack on her family on April 17, 2009.

“Am I going to die?” the Conant High School senior asked.

“Not if I can help it,” answered Hoffman Estates firefighter/paramedic Steve Nusser, who first encountered the dying teenager at her family's Hoffman Estates home alongside her wounded mother, Shelly, and with her dead father, Alan, and grandmother Marlene Gacek nearby.

Nusser, who held Laura's hand for the entire ambulance ride, was among several Hoffman Estates emergency workers who testified Thursday on the second day of the trial of D'Andre Howard, the man accused of the murders.

Laura died a short time later at the hospital, but by then she already had told Nusser and a police officer that her attacker was “Dre” — Howard's nickname, according to testimony Thursday.

Prosecutors say Howard, 25, attacked the family after arguing with his then-girlfriend Amanda Engelhardt, the mother of his child whom he accused of infidelity. Howard told Amanda that because she ruined their family, he was going to torture and kill hers, prosecutors claim. Amanda and the baby were not hurt and she eventually persuaded Howard to let her call for help, she testified earlier.

Defense attorneys say they will present evidence that Howard suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood sexual and physical abuse and neglect. They say he was legally insane at the time of the murders. The trial will continue today at the Rolling Meadows courthouse.

Testifying for the prosecution, Nusser and fellow firefighter/paramedics Matthew Fijalkowski and Daniel Kurzawinski described arriving at the grisly scene in the early morning and finding five people wounded and large amounts of blood on the carpet and floor, most of it in the den where four of the victims were found.

Fijalkowski testified that when he asked Shelly what happened, she said, “I was stabbed” and “Dre did this.” She survived with four stab wounds to her chest, upper abdomen and pelvis.

Nusser, who treated Laura at the scene, said she told him she had been on the floor for several hours after being stabbed. He testified that while he tended her wounds, he asked her who stabbed her and she responded by saying Dre or Tre.

Nusser said he immediately called to Hoffman Estates officer Michael Turman, who was posted at the front door of the Engelhardt family home.

“I asked (Laura) who stabbed her. She said, 'Dre,'” Turman said. “I asked, 'Who stabbed your family?' She said, 'Dre.'”

Turman testified he asked her, “Who is Dre?” and a man lying on the floor nearby — whom Turman identified in court — answered, “I'm Dre.”

“He said, 'She stabbed me first,'” Turman said.

Turman testified he asked Laura if she stabbed Dre. She said “yes” and closed her eyes, he said.

“At that point, I thought she had passed,” said Turman, who then asked Howard if he stabbed Laura.

Howard responded by saying, “You're just asking me this because I'm black,” said Turman, who described Howard as excited and angry.

Nusser, who overheard the conversation, testified that Howard was “alert and awake” and “his voice was strong enough for me to hear him.”

Kurzawinski, who described the scene as “horrific,” treated Howard for a wound to his right bicep.

“No one's blaming you,” Kurzawinski recalled telling Howard. “But if we did it's because you're the least injured.”

Howard's wound was not life-threatening, said Dr. Mark Gordon, an emergency room physician at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates who treated Howard that morning. Gordan said Howard appeared anxious.

He “was very evasive as to what occurred and the circumstances involved,” Gordon testified.

Day 2 of the trial concluded with testimony from Hoffman Estates police Sgt. Casia Cawley, who identified items taken from the Engelhardt home, including the kitchen knife prosecutors say Howard used to stab people, the blue yarn they say he used to tie up some of the victims, and a pair of bloody socks prosecutors say belonged to him.

Also on Thursday, prosecutors played a video of the crime scene that showed the bodies of Alan Engelhardt, 57, and Marlene Gacek, 73. At least one observer left the courtroom in tears.

Howard covered his face during much of the video, which showed a trail of bloody footprints through several rooms of the house — including the den and kitchen where the victims were found. The video also showed a can of Lysol and a bottle of Clorox bleach with blood on the handle, as well as a bloody paper towel, evidence, prosecutors say, of Howard's attempt to clean up the mess.

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