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Jury rules woman's death a homicide as Decatur teenager pleads not guilty to fatal DUI charges
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Jury rules woman's death a homicide as Decatur teenager pleads not guilty to fatal DUI charges

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2300 E. Locust Fire (copy)

Crews work the scene of a fire in the 2300 block of East Locust Street on Nov. 23. A Macon County coroner's jury ruled Wednesday that 87-year-old Mary D. Hinton’s death was a homicide.

DECATUR — A coroner’s jury heard evidence that the Decatur teenager who crashed his car into a house — sparking a fire that killed the woman living there — was on a drunken “joy ride” after getting his driver’s license just the day before the crash.

The Macon County coroner's jury ruled Wednesday that 87-year-old Mary D. Hinton’s death was a homicide caused by the reckless actions of 17-year-old Micaiah Gene Barton.

On Wednesday afternoon, Barton was brought to the Macon County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing where Judge Jeffrey Geisler ruled there was probable cause to try him as an adult on two charges of aggravated DUI causing death. Barton, represented by attorney David Ellison, had earlier waived a formal presentation of the evidence and had entered pleas of not guilty. He was then returned to the Peoria County Juvenile Center where he is being held in lieu of posting bail set at $100,000.

Council accepts $500,000 donation from Buffett Foundation for DUI enforcement

The coroner’s jury, meeting earlier at the same courthouse, was told by Decatur police patrol officer and accident investigator K.C. Kohn that the accident happened around 11 p.m. Nov. 22. He said Barton’s sport utility vehicle hit Hinton’s small home at 2368 E. Locust St. with such force it wound up completely inside the front room, severing a gas main that sparked a fierce fire.

He said fire fighting and rescue efforts were delayed while first responders waited for an Ameren Illinois crew to arrive and shut off the gas supply. “Ameren had to come out and actually dig up the street to get to the gas main in order to shut the gas off,” said Kohn.

Hinton’s body was found at 1:54 a.m. Nov. 23 in the kitchen of the burned-out house. An autopsy showed Hinton, who died two days before her 88th birthday, choked to death from toxic fumes. Kohn, questioned by Macon County Coroner Michael E. Day, said Hinton was not struck by the vehicle plowing into her house.

“We believe she probably woke up on impact or maybe when the gas ignited,” Kohn told the jurors. “She was trying to make it out and, either due to smoke or just not being sure what was going on, she didn’t make it out.”

He said Barton’s blood alcohol content was over the legal limit and described the new driver as being “out joy riding” when the accident happened. “He had earlier dropped off his girlfriend when she got scared about him drinking,” Kohn added.

Hinton’s daughter, Sheryl Rhodes, gave evidence and said neighbors saw “three kids” running around trying to get out of the blazing house following the crash. “They were in there and apparently nobody attempted to save her (Hinton),” she said.

Kohn told the jury the vehicle was empty when police arrived but Barton turned up later saying he had been the lone driver. “We don’t doubt there might have been other people there,” said Kohn. “But we’ve not been able to corroborate that the people seen by the neighbors were in the car at the time of the accident.”


2019 mug shots from the Herald & Review

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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