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Man drove on racetrack drunk, hit horse, killed woman: prosecutors

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The man accused of driving his truck drunk into a horse at Balmoral Park Racetrack Monday faces up to 14 years in prison for killing a woman riding it, prosecutors said.

They also said Angus D. Lake, 41, was engaged to the victim, 25-year-old Michelle Eustis, but her family says that’s not true.

“They really liked one another, but that’s as far as I knew of anything,” said Chuck Eustis III, her father. “They were not engaged. My daughter tells me everything.”

Prosecutors said Lake drank “five or six shots” while in a barn at the Crete race track with Eustis and 21-year-old Heather France of Michigan. Michelle Eustis’ father said other people were there, and his daughter and France left “just to get away from everybody.”

The women decided to go riding bareback on a horse, prosecutors said, and Lake went looking for them in a white Dodge Ram truck 30 minutes later.

Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Fillipitch said Lake drove his truck up behind the women’s horse at 5:07 a.m. on Backstretch Road and hit his brakes hard, causing his truck to rotate and hit the horse. She said the horse suffered a severe gouge on its back, and there is damage to the right rear of Lake’s truck.

Eustis died after suffering head trauma while France suffered a broken leg and required surgery. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Eustis’ death an accident.

Lake’s blood-alcohol level after the accident was 0.147, Fillipitch said, which is nearly twice the legal limit. He now faces four counts of aggravated driving under the influence.

Will County Judge Marzell L. Richardson Jr. set Lake’s bail at $500,000 after the state’s attorney’s office asked for a bond of $1 million. Kurt Leinweber, Lake’s public defender, called that request “way out of line.” He pointed to the damage to the rear of Lake’s vehicle to question the prosecutors’ story.

“Are we to believe the defendant is driving in reverse?” Leinweber said.

Appearing via video, Lake said he could raise $5,000 for bond. But Richardson’s ruling means he would need to pay $50,000. He was also told to have no contact with France.

Fillipitch said her office didn’t find a previous felony conviction for Lake, though she said he told officers he had one in his past. Instead, she said Lake was previously convicted of misdemeanors in Michigan and Ohio.

According to the Balmoral Park Racetrack website, Lake had been the driver of 12 horses from Jan. 1 through March 21. In those 12 starts, he failed to win one race. But he had one second-place finish, and two third-place finishes. The total purse won by horses he drove was $2,154, according to the website.

Officials said Lake has a valid driver’s license in Michigan. Chuck Eustis III said Lake visits Illinois during the summer “just to race for a couple of months.” Mike Belmonte, general manager at the racetrack, said Lake is an independent contractor who works at the park.

“It was a quite a shock to everybody, an accident like that always is. It’s something this is unforeseen and a shock to everybody. Things go on, just a little sadder,” said Belmonte, who said racing will go on as scheduled Wednesday night.

Lake is set to appear in court next on May 3.

Chuck Eustis III is the highly regarded trainer of St. Elmo Hero, a horse that won 25 races in a row. He said his daughter worked for him at Balmoral. He said services have been set for her Monday in Beecher, where the family used to live.

Contributing: Steve Metsch

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