Coroner's jury rules in deaths of Harp and Stiles

Margi Washburn
Henry County Courthouse, east side

    A coroner’s jury recently returned verdicts on the deaths of Haley L. Harp, 21, of Cambridge and Richard J. Stiles, 49, of Orion.

    Harp died at 4:13 a.m. Wednesday, May 12, in a single-vehicle accident east of Cambridge.

    Henry County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelan Wells presented his testimony and reconstruction of the accident scene.

    Wells testified that he responded to a call of a one-vehicle accident at 3:17 a.m. on May 12, on Ill. Highway 81 at 1625 E. In his investigation, Wells noted that the apparent lack of marks on the road surface indicated that the vehicle was westbound when it apparently drifted off the road and into a deep ditch, where it traveled 386 feet before it was steered out and back onto the road. After coming up, the vehicle began to slide sideways as it moved forward and increased momentum.

    With the vehicle moving straight but sideways, it rolled and impacted a utility pole, causing the roof to be crushed into the vehicle. The force of the impact severed the pole in two spots. The vehicle came to rest on its wheels in a farm field. Harp was still fastened in her seat belt.

    Toxicology reports showed a blood-alcohol level of .055.

    There was no evidence of a collision with another vehicle, or evasive maneuvering at the site. Wells stated that the entire accident took place in less than six seconds.

    A juror questioned whether there was evidence of cell phone usage or texting. Wells responded there was no conclusive evidence to support that theory.

    The jury concluded that Harp died at 4:13 a.m. from a neck fracture resulting from head and neck trauma from a vehicular accident. They ruled the death accidental.

    Richard J. Stiles, 49, of Orion died at 12:31 a.m. Sunday, May 30, following a one-vehicle accident on the Cambridge blacktop, County Rd. 16 at Liken Road.

    The Henry County Sheriff’s Department received a 9-1-1 call at 11:58 a.m. on Saturday, May 29, stating the accident had taken place, and the caller indicated that there had been a total of four people in the vehicle.

    Henry County Sheriff’s deputy Joseph Bedford testified that he and other responders found Stiles inside the vehicle, unbelted, on the driver’s side. No passengers were at the site.

    Bedford’s investigation showed that Stiles had been northbound on the Cambridge blacktop. As he rounded a curve, his left rear passenger tire left the roadway, then went flat. When Stiles tried to correct the turn, the vehicle eventually did a barrel roll. Responders noted that Stiles had suffered severe head trauma.

    Toxicology reports found a blood-alcohol level of .159. Both empty and full cans of beer were found inside the vehicle.

    Bedford noted that the accident occurred on a dark, unlit curve during clear weather with no precipitation on the road.

    Two passengers were located and interviewed. Bedford testified that though the dispatch office had been told four people were in the vehicle, there were only three. Statements were made that the three had spent time passing out flyers for a poker run at Rudy’s Bar in Cambridge. They then went to Valley View,?Bishop Hill, then returned to Rudy’s Bar. The passenger could only recall the vehicle going off the road, then the driver trying to correct. Once he came to, he called 9-1-1 but he and the other passenger became afraid and left the scene.

    The jury concluded that Stiles died at 12:31 a.m. May 30 in Cambridge Township from brain avulsion stemming from a skull fracture obtained in a vehicle mishap. They ruled the death accidental.