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Macon County coroner's jury rules on 4 deaths: 2 shooting homicides, 2 driving accidents
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Macon County coroner's jury rules on 4 deaths: 2 shooting homicides, 2 driving accidents

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DECATUR — A Macon County coroner’s jury weighed evidence on four inquests Wednesday, concluding two Decatur men were shot to death in homicides and two motorists, including a woman who plunged into Lake Decatur, died accidentally.

In dealing with the shooting deaths, the jury heard from Decatur Police Detective Jason Kuchelmeister, who said Dontrez Williams, 20, was killed around 5:47 a.m. Sept. 7 after being shot in the head.

Police reviewed surveillance footage which showed Williams, who had alcohol and a high level of meth in his blood, approach a man in a parking lot near the 1200 block of N. Edward Street. He is then seen to pull a gun as the other man takes off running.

“Mr. Williams begins firing at this other individual who then produced his own handgun and returns fire, subsequently striking Mr. Williams who falls to the ground,” the detective told the jurors.

Police traced the other gunman, who had suffered a leg wound, and identified him as DeeAndre J. Woodland, 38, who was subsequently booked on charges of being a felon in possession of a weapon and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Kuchelmeister said the two men did not know each other before their fatal encounter. “Our speculation is that possibly Mr. Williams tried to rob this other individual,” he added.

The jurors were then briefed by Kuchelmeister on the shooting death of 30-year-old Ernest L. Wren, who also died from a gunshot wound to the head on the afternoon of Oct. 25 in the 900 block of N. Van Dyke Street.

Kuchelmeister said Wren had been part of a group involved in running a car detailing shop but had fallen out with the others and was told he was no longer welcome at the address, but kept showing up.

When he arrived on Oct. 25 with a friend, Christopher Hutton, a violent argument had broken out with two other men present and Wren had ended up held in a headlock by the man later accused of murdering him, Deonta M. Merriweather. As the two fought, Kuchelmeister said, Wren asked for a gun and Hutton handed him one.

“Upon Mr. Wren taking possession of the firearm, Mr. Merriweather removed his own firearm and shot Mr. Wren.”

Merriweather, 26, appeared in Macon County Circuit Court Wednesday morning, pleading not guilty to a charge of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. Hutton, 26, also appeared in court Wednesday pleading not guilty to the same charge.

In dealing with the crashes, the jury was told by Macon County Coroner Michael E. Day that 18-year-old Decatur driver Tabitha D. Pratt had drowned on the night of Oct. 15 after her car plunged into Lake Decatur and sank completely.

Day said Pratt’s family said she had been out running an errand and it appeared she had come off the ramp from Lake Shore Drive onto U.S. 51 too fast and drove off the road into the lake. Day said the level of alcohol in her blood was nearly 2 ½ times the legal limit for driving.

Alcohol wasn’t a factor in the death of Springfield motorcyclist Daniel B. Judd, the jury heard, but cocaine may have been. Judd, 57, had been killed the evening of Oct. 8 on Illinois 121 in rural Mount Zion after plowing into the back of a boat trailer and then getting run over by a following vehicle.

Day said toxicology tests showed only a small amount of alcohol in his blood but cocaine levels revealed the drug had been taken “fairly recently” before his death.

Questioning investigating Macon County Sheriff’s Deputy Shane Wendell, Day asked: “Cocaine is a very debilitating substance when it comes to judgement, control, motor reflexes, etc, correct?”

“Correct,” said Wendell.


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

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