By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A Kalamazoo, Mich., man charged with reckless homicide in the September ATV death of a Quincy woman will stand trial in August after probable cause was found during a preliminary hearing on Monday.
Andrew J. Koster, 30, is charged with reckless homicide, aggravated driving under the influence and aggravated reckless driving in connection with the Sept. 14 death of 25-year-old Sarah Birsic near Clayton. He's scheduled to have a pretrial hearing Aug. 2, with the trial beginning Aug. 12 before Judge Alesia McMillen.
Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Cifaldi called Adams County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Doellman and Adams County Sheriff's Investigator Sam Smith as witnesses during the hearing.
Doellman was the first officer on the scene on property owned by Golden Triangle Whitetails, a hunting outfitter with property in Adams, Brown, Pike and Schuyler counties. Doellman testified he couldn't find Koster when he first arrived on the scene. After locating him, Doellman interviewed Koster in his squad car and smelled "strong to moderate odor" of alcohol and noticed that Koster's eye were bloodshot.
Doellman said Koster told him that he was driving an ATV with Birsic as his passenger. He said that after he did a few doughnuts, the "mule" ATV hit something in the field and flipped. Doellman said Koster admitted to drinking "six or seven beers and a mixed drink" before the accident. He said Koster admitted to doing between 10 and 15 doughnuts before the accident happened.
Doellman said Koster failed a field sobriety test and was taken into custody.
Defense attorney Barney Bier questioned Doellman repeatedly on his knowledge of what a doughnut was. During his cross-examination, Bier asked Doellman how long it took Koster to drink his alcohol. Doellman said Koster admitted to drinking between the hours of 8 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 13, a few hours before the accident happened around midnight.
Smith testified that he joined the investigation when Koster was taken to Blessing Hospital and had blood drawn for a DUI kit and gave a urine sample. Smith said the blood sample was shipped to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, and blood alcohol content came back at .085, just over Illinois' legal limit for intoxication.
Smith said neither Koster nor Birsic were wearing seatbelts available on the ATV. Smith said that Adams County Coroner James Keller ruled that Birsic died of blunt force trauma to her head after striking the roll bar of the ATV.
Birsic was pronounced dead at 1:20 a.m. in the emergency room at Blessing Hospital.
Koster told Smith that he had one or two beers, one full mixed drink and part of second, which was different from what Koster had told Doellman. He also told Smith that he had had a drink and a cigarette on the back porch of the house on the property between the time the accident happened and Doellman's arrival at the scene. The Adams County Sheriff's Department could not find any empty cans or bottles in that area of the property.
Smith said that Kyle Pavlick, whose family owns the property, gave a statement to the Adams County Sheriff Department about the events of the day. He said Koster had been hired to be a guide for Golden Triangle Whitetails and was going to live on the property and had arrived that morning. They had a gathering at the house and the group wound up riding ATVs. He said that the ATVs were being driven aggressively and the drivers were making sharp turns.
If convicted, Koster faces up to 14 years in prison. The most serious charge is the aggravated driving under the influence charge, which carries between three and 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The reckless homicide charge is a Class 3 felony, which carries a sentence of between two and five years in the DOC. The aggravated reckless driving charge is a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison.
It took longer than usual for a preliminary hearing to happen because three judges recused themselves from the case -- William Mays, Scott Walden and Chet Vahle. McMillen was assigned the case in late November.
McMillen ordered that all discovery motions by the sides be completed by May 3 and a status hearing was set for May 7. McMillen said she would hear any pretrial motions sometime in early June.
Koster has been free since posting 10 percent of a $10,000 bond on Sept. 14. His bond was modified in November, allowing him to live in Michigan. Wearing business attire, Koster said little during Monday's hearing. He conferred with Bier once and answered several questions McMillen asked him by saying, "Yes, ma'am." He was accompanied to court by several family members. Several members of Birsic's family also attended the hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes.