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Inexplicably, Jury Finds Speeding Cab Driver Who Killed Eric Kerestes Not Guilty

Eric Kerestes with his wife Tatijana. Photo courtesy of the Kerestes family.

In what looks to be a stunning miscarriage of justice, on Friday a Cook County jury acquitted taxi driver John Kesse, who struck and killed pedestrian Eric Kerestes, 30, while speeding at a terrifying velocity in August 2012. It appears to have been the second time in 14 years the cabbie had inflicted grievous harm to an innocent person while behind the wheel. Yet, after a four-day trial, the jury found Kesse not guilty of reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving in the Kerestes case.

At 6 a.m. on the day of the fatal crash, Kesse was speeding downtown on Milwaukee Avenue, witnesses said. He blew a red at the Milwaukee/Chicago/Ogden intersection, jumped a curb and struck Kerestes, an engineer and grad student who was walking to the Blue Line’s Chicago Avenue station. The pedestrian was thrown 200 feet; he died at the scene. The impact from the crash demolished the station entrance.

After I published a post about the crash, Noel Thomas emailed to say that he was seriously injured while driving in 1998 when Kesse ran a stoplight at Inner Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Avenue. Thomas suffered a shattered femur and a broken hip and spent six months in a wheelchair. Yellow Cab eventually paid Thomas a $400,000 settlement but did not admit liability. Kesse did not lose his cab license after the 1998 crash because he was not ticketed, due to conflicting witness reports.

Kesse, who began working as a taxi driver in 1987, racked up 33 tickets for moving violations, most of which were dismissed or pleaded down to supervision, prior to striking Kerestes in 2012. According to a Chicago Tribune report he had amassed $10,000 in unpaid Chicago parking tickets by that time.

Unfortunately, it appears that Thomas’ ordeal wasn’t used as evidence against Kesse in his trial for Kerestes death. “The law tries to keep prior acts from coming in as much as possible,” Howard Weisman, a former Cook County state’s attorney, told me in 2013 . “We want to judge the defendant on his current case, not because we think he’s a bad guy.” He added that prior legal issues are usually only considered in court if they are felonies that occurred during the last decade. “I would say almost certainly that the 1998 crash won’t be a factor.”

The aftermath of the 2102 crash. Photo: Chicago Tribune
The aftermath of the 2102 crash. Photo: Chicago Tribune

This week Kesse testified that the Ford Crown Victoria he was driving when he killed Kerestes malfunctioned accelerated to a deadly speed on its own accord, while he helplessly tried to pump the brakes, the Tribunes’s Megan Crepeau reported. "All of a sudden I heard 'voom,' and the cab took off," Kesse said in court. "It was speeding. ... I tried to keep on braking, but it doesn't stop." An expert witness for the defense testified that the cab must have sped up due to an electrical malfunction.

Prosecutors told the jury to disregard Kesse’s testimony, noting that an expert who examined the cab following the collision found that there was nothing wrong with its acceleration mechanisms, according to the Tribune. "This is not a case about a random, unrepeatable accidental alignment of a whole bunch of bad things that just were bad luck," said Assistant State's Attorney Eric Sacks. "This is a real case about an unjustified, reckless crash caused by this defendant."

After the acquittal Eric Kerestes’ father Bob told the Tribune that, along with the 1998 collision, this is the second time that Kesse has failed to admit fault in a horrific crash. "If you make a mistake, you should own up to your mistake. He didn't own up to his mistake the first time, and… he didn't own up to it the second time."

"I was just shocked," Eric’s mother Carol Kerestes told the Tribune. "We just don't understand what it was that made (the jury) decide that." She said that after the verdict family members were too stunned to speak to each other.

It truly is baffling that, despite the preponderance of evidence that Kesse was once again acting with reckless disregard for other road users, the jury declined to hold him accountable for cutting short the life of a promising young man.

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