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Murder trial starts for Chicago man in death of homeless veteran in Elgin

Yancarlo Garcia

Yancarlo Garcia

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Early on Aug. 11, 2011, Yancarlo Garcia, of Chicago, threw a 15-pound fire extinguisher off the roof of the Fulton Street Parking Deck in downtown Elgin. Sixty feet below, it struck Richard Gibbons, a 61-year-old homeless alcoholic who was sleeping on a sheet of cardboard atop air-conditioning units in an alley below.

Gibbons suffered severe injuries, and about three weeks later, on Sept. 4, 2011, the Army veteran died at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

As Garcia’s trial on a first-degree murder charge got underway Monday, his lawyers and the prosecutors agreed on that much. In opening statements to the jury, Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Engerman revealed a lot more about that night. Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress agreed with most of Engerman’s chronology and added more details.

But at the story’s finale, Childress presented a very different version of why Gibbons ended up dead. She said Garcia, now 24, threw the fire extinguisher blindly in a drunken and drug-addled rage, with no intention of hitting Gibbons. She argued that it bounced off the roof of a 15-foot-high walkway that connects the parking garage with a restaurant and struck Gibbons on a ricochet path.

Childress also theorized that while the extinguisher crushed Gibbons’ pelvis, the illness that eventually killed him had more to do with his chronic alcoholism than the injury.

Engerman and Childress said Aug. 10 began with Garcia having a bad day at his home in Chicago, where he lived with a girlfriend and their baby. So he and his brother, Eduardo Garcia, began drinking heavily and smoking pot . As night fell, they drove to Elgin. They met up with two Elgin women they knew, went to a liquor store and, at 1:30 a.m., decided to drive up to the roof of the parking deck to enjoy the view.

Engerman said one of the women looked over the edge of the deck and called out that she could see a “bum” sleeping below. They decided it would be good sport to wake up the man, so they began taunting him.

Childress said one of the women pretended to be a prostitute, offering sex to Gibbons. At first, Gibbons just shouted angry words back at them, Childress said.

When Gibbons stopped talking back, Engerman said, that was probably because he was calling 911 on his cellphone to complain to police about the harassment. But the prosecutor said he thinks the Garcia brothers and the two women thought Gibbons had gone back to sleep, so they tried to wake him by throwing a plastic bottle down on him; spraying the fire extinguisher’s contents over the side of the rampart, and finally throwing the fire extinguisher at him.

“This was not a prank,” Engerman said. “This was not a teenage notion. This was a knowing and deliberate action.”

But Childress said the attempt to spray the extinguisher on Gibbons failed. So in a fit of frustration, she said, Garcia just hurled the extinguisher over the side, never dreaming it would bounce off a walkway roof and injure Gibbons.

“He wasn’t aiming at Mr. Gibbons,” Childress said. “He was aiming at absolutely nothing except the ground.”

Engerman argued that medical treatments for Gibbons’ broken pelvis set off a succession of health problems that finally caused Gibbons’ organs to shut down. But Childress argued that this likely was set off by the fact that Gibbons already had cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C and heart problems.

Garcia’s fate will be decided by a jury of 11 women and one man. Most are 40 or older. But the panel, picked Monday morning after about four hours of questioning, includes a 21-year-old woman and a young man who just graduated from St. Charles East High School. It also includes a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf and noted during jury-selection questioning that her religion forbids her to drink alcohol.

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