Suphi Kurdi, brother of the late Murod Kurdi, and their mother, Fadia Muhamad, are joined by attorney David Petrich after the hearing. They vowed to seek justice. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Suphi Kurdi, brother of the late Murod Kurdi, and their mother, Fadia Muhamad, are joined by attorney David Petrich after the hearing. They vowed to seek justice. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Fine, community service for woman who killed man in fatal accident

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Leanne Cusack, in hoodie, walks to the parking lot while surrounded by Cook County Sheriff’s Police.

Victim’s family outraged over outcome

By Steve Metsch

Six months after the car she was driving hit and killed Murod Kurdi, Leanne Cusack had her day in court.

On Tuesday, she was found guilty of failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident – the only charge against her – for the fatal June 5 accident in the 5100 block of West 91st Street that cost Kurdi, 28, his life.

After a 90-minute hearing at the Bridgeview Courthouse, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diana Elena Lopez found Cusack, 28, guilty.

Cusack, of Oak Lawn, was fined $750, sentenced to attend eight hours of traffic safety school, perform 30 hours of community service and watch a one-hour video about the impact on victims.

Family, friends and members of the Arab American Action Network – outraged that she was not charged with a more serious crime – vented their anger during a press conference outside the courthouse.

As Cusack left the courthouse, a gray hoodie pulled down over her face and surrounded by seven Cook County Sheriff’s deputies enroute to the parking lot, some supporters of the deceased chanted “murderer, murderer.”

Earlier, outside the courtroom, Robert Olson, Cusack’s attorney, said, “She feels terrible about what happened.”

“The big beef here is they believe she was under the influence of alcohol. I had three officers testify that they didn’t believe she was under the influence of alcohol,” Olson said.

Cusack told police that she drank one shot of tequila and one 16-ounce can of Old Style beer between 3 and 3:30 p.m. that day, roughly two hours before the fatal accident at 5:38 p.m.

Although no alcohol-related charges were levied against her, the fact that she had two drinks was introduced by the prosecution.

“Because that goes to carelessness,” Olson said. “We were trying to show that she wasn’t under the of influence of alcohol.”

One officer testified that he smelled alcohol on her breath, but did not detect any other indication that she was drunk. Two other officers testified she was not swaying, slurring her words or had glassy eyes.

Cusack has received death threats in the months after the accident, Olson said.

The prosecution led by attorney Michael Smith said there was extensive damage to the white Kia she was driving, but Olson noted that the damage was not significant enough to cause the vehicle’s “black box” to activate. Thus, no information about the speed of the car, etc., was available.

After the hearing, Kurdi’s older brother, Suphi Kurdi, found a photo on his phone of his younger brother in a hospital bed with a mangled and bloody face.

“Does this look like someone was hit by a car doing 27 miles per hour?” he asked.

Cusack had told police she was driving “25 to 27” miles per hour when the accident happened, an officer testified.

It’s been a tough year for the family, Kurdi said, noting his father died from cancer a few months before.

“They claimed she called 911. She never did. It’s public record. They allowed her boyfriend to be there, correct her on everything. The police became her defense lawyers by not following procedure, by saying she wasn’t drunk. There was no forced blood draw. They don’t see anything on the black box because it’s only triggered if you hit your brakes. She did not,” Kurdi said.

He said he will never forget finding his severely injured brother lying on 91st Street after the incident.

“Blood coming out of his ears. … He died overnight in the hospital.”

Murod would have been 29 in January.

“He wasn’t just my little brother. He was my best friend,” Suphi, 32, said. “In our custom, the oldest male in the household, you have to be the one who washes the body, wraps it, puts them in the casket.”

Olson was not happy with the showing of a 24-second video taken from security cameras at the Kurdi home.

Suphi said he “didn’t trust” the Oak Lawn police so he gave the video to his attorney. Olson said the video, that showed Murod Kurdi being struck by Cusack’s car “may have been altered.” He also wasn’t pleased it was shown in slow motion, but it was later shown in real time during the hearing.

David Petrich, the family’s attorney, said he’s taking depositions for a possible civil lawsuit against Cusack and Demma’s, the bar where she was drinking. The Oak Lawn police may be added to the case, Petrich said.

“Mike Smith and his team of prosecutors did a very nice job with what they had,” Petrich said. “I am not aware of Leanne Cusack calling 911. … I have the 911 calls and one is not from her.”

“Leanne Cusack is very sorry for what happened? I take offense to that. This happened on June 5 after she was drinking at Demma’s. On June 16, she was also drinking at Demma’s,” Petrich said.

He was appalled that Cusack told police she “did not want to be held liable for someone walking in front of her car.”

Fadia Muhamad, the mother of the deceased, said “justice was not served.”

“She was found guilty although she had pleaded not guilty. Despite all of the evidence presented to the Oak Lawn police at the time of the accident,” she said. “Despite all of this, I think there is something highly problematic within the Oak Lawn Police Department.”

Outside the courthouse, Suphi said, “They have the evidence. … Now she gets to walk away paying $750 and I get to visit my brother in the graveyard.”

“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” he added.

The Arab American community is “outraged” and “filled with righteous indignation today. And our community is dead-set on getting justice for Murod,” Muhammad Sankar, lead organizer of the AAAN, said.

“And justice is not just getting a ticket and being fined. Justice is not just traffic court. … We want an independent investigation into the Oak Lawn police for the way they handled Murod’s case and their repeated violations against our community. We’re asking the state attorney’s office to review this case,” Sankar added.

Sankar said the AAAN plans to attend a meeting of the Oak Lawn Police and Fire Commission at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6.

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