Family and friends of a Wind Point man hugged each other and wept Friday night when jurors acquitted him of striking a pregnant woman with his vehicle while driving home on Election Day 2014.
Jurors deliberated for a little more than 1½ hours Friday before declaring Dean L. Cepukenas, 71, not guilty of three counts of failure to stop and give information or render aid, ending the three-day trial. Cepukenas had initially been charged with stiffer offenses: two counts of hit-and-run causing great bodily harm and one count of hit-and-run causing injury.
He was accused of side-swiping the Racine woman on Nov. 4, 2014, while driving home from a gyros shop after a day of golfing followed by beers at a bar.
“My client has maintained from Day One that he didn’t know he was involved in the accident. He’s very sorry for the injuries he caused,” Cepukenas’ defense attorney, Mark Richards, said after the verdict was read aloud in the packed courtroom. “He put his faith in the jury and believes it was a just verdict.”
Genie Webb and her daughter entered the crosswalk at about 5:56 p.m. at Main Street and Goold Street in Racine and Webb was struck by the sport-utility vehicle. Webb, 36 weeks pregnant, had been with her daughter at Lakeview Community Center to vote while Webb’s boyfriend was across the street buying gas. They were walking to meet him at the gas station when Webb was struck.
“It’s sad that he’s not being held responsible for what he did. (Cepukenas’ family members) don’t have to go through any turmoil,” Webb said after the verdict. Had jurors opted for a conviction, it “wouldn’t have solved anything for us. It wasn’t going to take away our pain,” she said.
During closing arguments on Friday, Racine County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Tanck-Adams told jurors that Webb had taken nine or 10 steps into the crosswalk with her then-3-year-old daughter when Webb was struck by Cepukenas’ vehicle.
While Cepukenas maintains he didn’t know he struck anyone, Tanck-Adams scoffed at the notion.
Arguing the area was awash in lights from the gas station, street lights and Racine Zoo, Tanck-Adams said Cepukenas pulled his car over for about three seconds after side-swiping them so he could check to see whether anyone saw him. Then he left, she argued, because he had been drinking at Scores Sports Bar & Grill, 4915 Washington Ave.
“He waited 24 hours, after he could be sure that alcohol was out of his system, to call law enforcement and say ‘I think this was me,’ “ Tanck-Adams told jurors.
Richards said Cepukenas didn’t see them or he would have stopped.
Cepukenas testified on Thursday during the trial’s second day that he and a friend split not quite two pitchers of Miller Lite beer while at the bar for about three hours before the incident. That would equate to about 3½ beers consumed in three hours — not intoxicated, Richards told jurors Friday.
Had Cepukenas been concerned about alcohol in his system, he wouldn’t have again gone golfing and to a bar on the day following the incident, Richards said. Cepukenas asked his wife to call police the evening after arriving home and seeing a report on the news, he and his wife testified.
Because of a cataract and detached retina, the vision in Cepukenas’ right eye is a blur, he testified Thursday. The impact occurred on the SUV’s front right quarter panel.
Crash reconstructionist Dennis Skogen, testifying for the defense on Friday, said the incident occurred as Cepukenas turned left onto Main Street from eastbound Goold Street. The SUV was traveling at about 10 to 15 mph, said Skogen, president of Skogen Engineering Group Inc. in Madison.
He said part of the SUV connecting to the windshield and the driver’s side window inside Cepukenas’ Toyota Highlander would have blocked his view of Webb and her daughter at the corner.