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Defendant in fatal accident will request reduced bond

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST
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(Photo provided)
Benjamin Black’s attorney plans to ask a judge to reduce his bail, possibly to one that would not require posting money.

When his friend found him unconscious in her car April 2, she thought Benjamin Black has just shot heroin, court records show.

At the time, Black was on electronic home monitoring in connection with a DeKalb County case after being charged with stealing more than $4,000 of coiled copper and brass March 11 in Cortland. He had told a sheriff’s deputy his parents would take him April 2 to St. Charles to visit his attorney.

Court records lay out what authorities allege happened instead: Black ended up in a Walgreen’s parking lot in Villa Park with a friend. She ran inside to buy hypodermic needles, found him unconscious in the car, and tossed the needles in the trash. Black tested positive for opiates, but he denied doing heroin. He told authorities he had drunk codeine cough syrup and taken an unmarked painkiller his friend gave him.

This incident happened in the 11 weeks police were investigating the Feb. 27 crash that killed 11-year-old Matthew Ranken of Sycamore and cracked the skull of Teale Noble, 18, of Sycamore.

Black was driving an SUV that smashed into the back of the car carrying the two, causing a crash that involved two other vehicles, police said. Authorities didn’t charge Black with three counts of aggravated driving under the influence until May 7, largely because a state lab spent weeks determining Black had heroin metabolites in his system at the time of the crash, authorities said.

A DeKalb County deputy asked a judge to kick Black out of the electronic home monitoring program after April 2, but on April 11, a DeKalb County judge ordered he remain in the special program while getting drug and alcohol treatment and submitting to drug tests.

Black was in Kane County Jail on Friday, unable to post 10 percent of his $250,000 bond in connection with the DUI charges. His attorney, D.J. Tegeler, plans to ask a judge to reduce his bail, possibly to one that would not require posting money, which Kane County prosecutors plan to fight at a scheduled June 26 hearing.

The bail request baffles Ranken’s father, Larry, who pointed to Black’s criminal history. DuPage County court records show Black was charged with possession of a controlled substance in 2002, underage drinking in 2005, and driving under the influence of drugs in 2004.

“I was just hoping when it came back positive for heroin and when they found out his past record ... we just want to get it over with and see justice pervail,” Larry Ranken said. “I’m afraid it’s not going to. It just makes it nauseous to think that my little boy, who impacted every single person he met, I’m not going to be able to hold him again, and there’s a chance [Black] could walk away.”

Tegeler acknowledges the tragedy inherent in the crash’s injuries and the life cut short, but he’s quick to point out that prosecutors have not yet proven the charges against his client beyond a reasonable doubt. He points out that one can legally have opiates in their system in certain circumstances, and argues the $250,000 bail is unfairly high.

“The amount of the bond set is a hardship on the defendant and violates the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence … [and] impairs the ability of the defendant to assemble witnesses for his defense, which is fundamental to his right to a fair trial,” Tegeler said in the court documents.

Tegeler has not had a chance to review the laboratory tests that purportedly showed his client had heroin in his system at the time of the crash. That typically means a person had recently consumed heroin, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were feeling the affects of the drug at that particular time.

Tegeler emphasized Black’s SUV slid on ice before smashing into the car carrying Ranken and Noble. Black got out of his Ford Expedition and tried to help others involved with the crash and then cooperated with police, Tegeler said.

“From what I’ve seen in police reports, they did not think he was impaired [the night of the crash,]” Tegeler said.

As far as the months that lapsed between the crash and the felony charges, Kane County Sheriff Lt. Pat Gengler pointed to the lab that handled Black’s test. If Black had been injured enough to require medical treatment, a hospital would have processed those types of tests in treating him and police could have quickly accessed the results, Gengler said.

Since he wasn’t injured, the samples were sent to an Illinois State Police crime lab, which has a slower turn-around time. Kane County prosecutors filed felony charges within a week of receiving Black’s test results, Gengler said.

The process can feel slow, especially for those who experienced the loss of a child, but police officers need to keep their emotions in check and build a solid case, Gengler said. That sometimes can take weeks.

“We also don’t want to leave the door open that when all this is said and done, that he walks out and he gets off on some technicality that we missed and we could have avoided by putting a little extra time into it before you charged,” Gengler said.

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