John Ardelean, a police officer who was seen drinking extensively just before killing two men in a car crash, walked free from the Criminal Courts building today. All charges against him had been dropped.
The prosecution was forced to drop charges after a ruling in late April by Judge Thomas Gainer, Jr. who threw out blood-alcohol evidence against Ardelean, saying it was obtained illegally.
Family members expressed outrage at the ruling.
"It's difficult to watch Ardelean walk out and knowing he's free," said Victoria Lagunas, cousin of Erick Lagunas, 21, who was killed in the crash. "Obviously that man has no heart and no conscience . . . I don't believe he's going to dwell on this."
On Thanksgiving Day 2007, Ardelean was captured on video taking at least five shots at the Martini Ranch Bar before driving away. The subsequent wreck killed Lagunas and 22-year-old Miguel Flores.
Seven hours after the accident, Ardelean's supervising officer, Lt. John Magruder, noticed Ardelean's eyes were bloodshot and his breath smelled of alcohol. He ordered a Breathalyzer test. Ardelean blew a .032, but prosecution experts were prepared to testify that at the time of the accident, his blood-alcohol must have been at least twice the legal limit of .08.
But other officers at the scene of the accident testified that they had seen no evidence that Ardelean was drunk.
And Judge Gainer, a notoriously pro-police judge who ruled in favor of three cops caught beating two men on surveillance tape, threw the Breathalyzer evidence out. He argued that Lt. Magruder's testimony wasn't credible, and that as a result, there was no probable cause to order the blood-alcohol test.
Without that evidence, the Cook County State's Attorney's office couldn't go on with its case. From a statement:
"Regrettably, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office today dismissed charges of Aggravated DUI and Reckless Homicide against Chicago Police Officer John Ardelean, who was charged with causing an automobile crash that killed Miguel Flores and Erick Lagunas on November 22, 2007.
"A court ruling in this case last month quashed Officer Ardelean's arrest and suppressed key blood alcohol evidence that would have been required to enable the prosecution to meet its burden of proof and proceed with the case in good faith.
"As tragic as this case is for the victims and their families, prosecutors have a legal and ethical obligation to only pursue cases in which there is sufficient evidence to meet that burden."
The family may proceed with a civil suit. Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Department issued a statement saying that its "internal investigation of this incident remains open. Officer Ardelean is currently on administrative duty and relieved of police powers."
Watch the victim's family react to the ruling: