The Chicago Heights police officer who allegedly handed a drunken Steger man the keys to a car and ordered him to drive shortly before the man crashed into a tree, killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, testified Thursday that the man seemed fine.
Officer Chris Felicetti sounds stunned in a call recorded right after the crash in which a Chicago Heights police dispatcher tells him the boy, Michael Langford Jr., he’d seen moments before had died shortly after the traffic stop.
“Are you serious?” Felicetti asks. “Are you kidding me?
“Oh my God,” he says. “(The driver) was all right when I turned it over to him.
“The kid was secured safely in the child seat,” he says, before repeating the phrase “Oh my God” at least four times.
Judge Edward Burmila ruled that the recording could not be played during Thursday’s hearing on whether Steger police had probable cause to arrest Cecil Conner.
Before his ruling, Conner’s attorneys played the recording in the courtroom during a break in the hearing. Conner’s trial on several counts of aggravated drunken driving is scheduled to begin next week.
Felicetti’s testimony, which was cut short Thursday evening but was scheduled to resume Friday, came after two Steger police officers testified that Conner appeared highly intoxicated after the crash.
His blood alcohol content tested as high as .208 percent, and Conner reportedly had called friends shortly before the fatal crash, saying he was drunk and needed help because a Chicago Heights police officer had ordered him to drive.
On May 10, designated driver Kathie LaFond was driving Conner home after he’d been drinking at a friend’s house all day when she was pulled over by Felicetti and charged with driving on a suspended license.
About 40 minutes after Felicetti handed Conner the keys to LaFond’s red Chevrolet Cavalier, Conner drove off the road, went through several yards and crashed into a pine, uprooting the roughly 30-foot-tall tree.
The crash site near the southeast corner of Carpenter and 34th streets is about two miles from where LaFond was pulled over.
Michael, who was asleep in a car seat, died in the crash.
Steger police Sgt. Gerald Ruff testified that Conner was bleeding from a head wound, smelled of alcohol, was unable to give an accurate home address and fell over while sitting on a porch after the crash.
Conner told Ruff that a silver-colored car had cut him off — a story Ruff did not find credible — and urged him to “go get the bastard that did this.”
Steger police Detective Peter Fajman testified Thursday that Conner was slurring his speech and seemed confused after being taken to St. James Hospital.
“He would ask me repeatedly why he was there and what was going on,” said Fajman, who testified he smelled a “strong odor” of alcohol on Conner’s breath.
Felicetti gave a different picture, testifying that he told the Chicago Heights dispatcher that he gave Conner the car “based on my perception of him that he was OK.”
Conner’s attorney, Jeff Tomczak, is seeking to defend his client by arguing that Conner was following Felicetti’s orders when he drove that night.