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Wheeling man acquitted in fatal St. Charles crash
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Eric Townsend


Timothy Lambert


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Published: 10/20/2008 12:27 PM | Updated: 10/20/2008 5:46 PM

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A Wheeling man was acquitted Monday of wrongdoing for a fatal St. Charles crash that authorities alleged he sparked when cutting off another motorist.

DuPage Circuit Judge Kathryn Creswell ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove Eric W. Townsend, 25, was close enough to have played a significant role in the tragedy.

He faced up to 14 years in prison if the judge found him guilty of failing to report and leaving the scene of a fatal accident that killed Timothy Lambert, 41, of St. Charles.

"I want the (Lambert) family to have closure," Townsend told reporters outside of court. "I'm very sorry for their loss."

His trial highlighted the responsibility a motorist faces even if their car is not struck.

The two-car crash occurred about 5 p.m. Jan. 8, 2007, near Oak Road and North Avenue, also known as Main Street, between the DuPage Airport and Pheasant Run Resort.

After finishing his shift at a nearby car dealership, Townsend said, he safely turned left onto North Avenue. Seconds later, the apprentice mechanic said he saw the crash in his rearview mirror.

He admitted continuing on without stopping because Townsend said he was not involved.

But authorities said an impatient Townsend sparked the crash when he cut off another motorist.

That driver, Jason D. Johnson, 30, of St. Charles, said he had little time to react when cut off but he thought he could make it safely across westbound lanes onto a grassy area off the shoulder.

Instead, his van struck a black Chevy Tahoe, leaving Lambert pinned behind the wheel. Lambert - a husband, father and chemist who grew up in West Chicago and loved the outdoors - was killed.

Several family members, including Christina, his wife of 14 years, left court Monday visibly upset.

"It is devastating and beyond comprehension," Christina Lambert said. "(Townsend) knows what he did and he will have to live with it for the rest of his life. There is no legal accountability for either of the drivers who killed my husband."

She added: "If the two of them had collided, Tim would have been the first person to stop to help them. That's the kind of man he was."

Defense attorney Neil Cohen attacked Johnson's credibility because he tested positive for marijuana. Johnson, who later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence of drugs, said he smoked the night before the crash but felt fine while driving.

At the time of the crash, both Johnson and Townsend had valid driver's licenses. Townsend, though, was driving without insurance. State officials suspended his license until he pays an automatic $20,000 fine to Lambert's estate. It's unclear if he still will be liable with an acquittal.

It was not a clear-cut case. Besides Johnson's marijuana use, there were varying speeds and distance estimates presented during last week's two-day trial, which the judge cited in acquitting Townsend.

One of the defendant's co-workers led police to him several days after the crash. Police said he admitted cutting off Johnson - but Townsend disputes confessing to any wrongdoing.

"I was misquoted (by the police)," Townsend said, "but I'm not upset with anyone. I don't hold any grudges."

In an unrelated case, Townsend was in an accident less than two months earlier. He received court supervision for driving too fast to avoid an accident.