DECATUR — A coroner’s jury spent Wednesday morning sorting through the tragic details of six violent Decatur-area deaths: two gunshot victims, a stabbing victim, a death in a house fire and two men who lost their lives in vehicle accidents.
The jury ruled the death of 12-year-old Marqueius N. Gray as accidental, hearing he was shot in the chest Nov. 12 by a friend playing around with a gun.
The Nov. 4 death of Tobby J. Buhs, 22, was ruled a homicide after he succumbed to a stab wound in his chest.
Marcqui Apholone’s death was ruled a homicide when the jury heard the 25-year-old man was gunned down near his Decatur home the night of Nov. 8.
The death of Karla Dillin, 58, was judged accidental when she succumbed to toxic fume inhalation Oct. 27 during a fire in her home.
The Oct. 29 death of rollover crash victim Michael D. Smith, 38, was ruled accidental, as was the Nov. 14 death of Larry C. Williams, 48, a pedestrian struck and killed by a vehicle as he was taking a smoke break from work.
Marqueius N. Gray
In exploring the circumstances of Gray's death, Decatur police detective Jim Atkinson said extensive police interviews all painted the same picture: Avante M. Flesch, a visiting friend of the boy, had been playing around with a gun he found in the front room of a house in the 1100 block of North Main Street when it went off.
Flesch, 20, has since been booked on a preliminary charge of involuntary manslaughter; preliminary charges are subject to review by the state’s attorney's office. When a juror asked Atkinson why Flesch had initially fled the scene, the detective said: “...He was afraid; he just panicked.”
In the stabbing death of Buhs, Decatur police detective Barry Hitchens said Buhs had died after an argument about a nighttime impromptu street drag race. Hitchens said Buhs had been a passenger in a car that encountered another vehicle on Pershing Road at U.S. Business 51. The vehicle Buhs was in won the race, but the other driver refused to pay the previously agreed prize of $100.
Both vehicles ended up driving to the Woodmound Plaza parking lot off North Woodford Street, where Hitchens said the argument over the prize money became violent between Buhs and an unidentified male from the other vehicle.
“During that argument, the other man produced a knife and stabbed Mr. Buhs in the right side of his chest,” said Hitchens.
Macon County Coroner Michael E. Day told the jury an autopsy revealed the deep knife wound had penetrated Buhs’ heart and his right lung, bringing death within “minutes.”
Just this week, police released video surveillance images they hope will lead to the identification of the people in the other vehicle as the hunt for the killer continues.
Jeremy Appenzeller, a Decatur police detective, told the jury the death of Apholone also came after a dispute. Appenzeller said Apholone got into an argument with an unknown assailant. He was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the driveway of a home in the 2100 block of East Whitmer Street.
“He was discovered two houses to the west of his actual residence because he had fled from his attacker,” Appenzeller said.
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Day said one of the bullets had cut Apholone’s carotid artery and was “independently and rapidly lethal.”
Appenzeller said the case was still under investigation, and he could offer limited information as “a number of arrests could be pending.”
In the death of Dillin, Decatur Fire Department Inspector Mike Wigginton said her body was found in a room adjacent to the living room of her home at 1724 N. 33rd St. after a fire. Wigginton said the living room was set up as a bedroom and was heated by ceiling-mount space heaters being used incorrectly on the floor after the home’s furnace had failed, creating a fire hazard.
Wigginton said Dillin’s body was found in a room adjacent to the living room.
“We believe she was trying to exit the home when she got caught,” said Wigginton, explaining she had been overwhelmed by toxic fumes.
Michael D. Smith
Smith, of Oreana, died from multiple traumatic injuries after he was thrown from his rolling pickup truck following an early evening accident on Greenswitch Road just north of Hickory Point Road.
Matt Jedlicka, a detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, said exactly how the accident happened is a mystery.
“The weather was clear, the road was free of debris and the truck was traveling at highway speeds, about 55 mph,” Jedlicka said.
Smith was not wearing a seat belt, and toxicology results on his blood are caught up in an Illinois State Police Crime Lab case backlog.
Larry C. Williams
The death of Williams, of Decatur, was ruled accidental after the jury heard the pedestrian was hit by a skidding three-quarter-ton pickup truck with a half load of rocks as he was standing at 25th and Eldorado streets outside the Tate & Lyle processing plant while smoking.
Larry Brooks, a Decatur police patrol officer and accident reconstruction expert, said the unusual chain of events that resulted in his death began with vehicles stuck behind a semitruck waiting to turn into the plant off Eldorado.
Brooks said a minivan driver got tired of the wait, and attempting to pull around the truck, drove into the path of the oncoming eastbound pickup truck.
“The truck swerves to the right, probably not knowing it's snow-covered grass,” Brooks said. “He’s in a three-quarter-ton truck with a half load of rock in its bed, and so as soon as he hits that snow-covered grass, he’s not stopping.”
Williams was standing in this area, with his back to the eastbound traffic and well away from the road, with a friend as they smoked. Brooks said the friend saw the skidding truck coming and bolted for safety, reaching out to try and grab Williams before the truck smashed into him, causing massive and injuries that proved fatal.
In answers to questions from the jurors, the pickup truck driver was tested and found to be alcohol and drug free. The minivan driver who caused the crash left the scene.