Chad E. Smith

Smith

URBANA — A Mahomet man faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced in October for causing the death of a friend because he drove while drunk.

A Champaign County jury deliberated about 51/2 hours July 31 before convicting Chad E. Smith, 28, of two counts of aggravated driving under the influence on July 14, 2018, leading to the death of Michael Donahue, 32, of Mahomet. They returned the verdict about 8 p.m.

Judge Brett Olmstead set sentencing for Oct. 11 and refused to grant a request by Assistant State’s Attorney Will Lynch to increase Smith’s bond, even after hearing that Smith was on probation for a 2016 Douglas County misdemeanor DUI at the time of his arrest. Smith, who listed an address in the 200 block of Lincoln Street, has been free on bond in the Champaign County felony DUI case since late July 2018.

Testimony during the two-day trial was that the crash happened north of Mahomet and west of Illinois 47, near County Roads 2500 N and 350 E.

Brenda Lehmann, who lives in that area, testified she was awakened by Smith banging on her door about 2:40 a.m. on July 14. He complained of his arm hurting and told her he had wrecked his car. She called 911.

Carle Arrow Ambulance EMT Chris Humer and Cornbelt Fire Chief John Koller both responded and testified they found Smith at Lehmann’s house and that he reported his left arm hurt and that Smith smelled of alcohol.

Champaign County sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Darr testified he arrived shortly after the first responders and asked Smith if there was anyone else they needed to worry about and he replied no.

As Darr was speaking with Smith, Mahomet police Officer William Ward located the crashed car in a field of mature soybeans and saw a hand protruding from under Smith’s Chevrolet Malibu with a wristband on it.

Mr. Donahue was under the car, and had received a fatal head injury. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Sheriff’s deputy J.P. Reifsteck testified he went to Carle Foundation Hospital to interview Smith and learned that Smith and Mr. Donahue had been at the Fisher Fair the night before the crash. Smith consented to a blood draw.

State crime lab scientist Alexandra Baluka, an expert in toxicology, testified that the blood sample taken by Reifsteck about 5:20 a.m. measured Smith’s blood-alcohol concentration at 0.11 while another sample taken by hospital personnel just before 4 a.m. was the equivalent of 0.15.

Illinois motorists are presumed intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration in excess of 0.08.

Katie Isaac of rural Mahomet testified that she had ridden to the Fisher Fair with Smith and Mr. Donahue earlier in the evening, that she and the men went their own ways during the evening, but got together again to ride back home.

Isaac said Smith was driving when he dropped her off at her home about midnight and that both he and Mr. Donahue, a passenger, waved goodbye to her as they left.

Smith’s attorney, Jim Martinkus of Champaign, called no witnesses to testify on Smith’s behalf, instead relying on his cross-examination of the state witnesses to try to plant doubt.

In final arguments, Martinkus said that the state had not met its burden of proof and suggested that Mr. Donahue could have been driving the car.

Smith faces three to 14 years behind bars. There is a possibility he could receive probation, but the law says Olmstead would have to find that “extraordinary circumstances” exist to justify a community-based sentence.

Should he be sent to prison, Smith must serve 85 percent of whatever time he gets. He declined Lynch’s offer to plead guilty to one count of DUI for a sentence of eight years in prison.

He is also facing the possible revocation of his Douglas County probation. That case is set for hearing Aug. 13 in Tus­cola.