YORKVILLE – "I need glasses. It was dark. My eyesight is kind of crazy. I need glasses."
Those were the first words from the prosecution's opening statements, which were allegedly spoken by an Aurora man charged in connection with the hit-and-run death of Oswego High School softball coach Amanda Stanton during a bench trial that began this week at the Kendall County courthouse.
A bench trial means a judge will determine whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty, along with sentencing, instead of a jury.
The trial's first day, which began 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 13, included opening arguments from the counsel of Nehemiah Williams, 39, of Aurora and Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis and First Assistant State's Attorney Mark Shlifka.
Shlifka said Stanton and her boyfriend got into an argument while at the wedding on June 23, 2018 at Gaylord House and Gardens in Oswego, to which they took an Uber from a nearby hotel, and both ended up leaving the wedding on foot with Stanton never to be seen from her boyfriend and friends at the wedding again. That same day, he said, the mother of one of Williams's children asked Williams for a ride from Aurora to her mother's house in Oswego and, during the course of that ride, Williams hit Stanton while driving without corrective lenses, which is a specific restriction on his driver's license.
“This defendant kept driving, kept driving down the road toward Oswego," Shlifka said. "He did stop a short distance later, but not to go back to see what happened. Not to go back to figure out what it was he hit, not to offer any assistance, not to exchange information with anybody, but to get out of that car and look at the damage on the front end of that Chrysler Pacifica. And when he did that, he got back in and continued on his way to Oswego away from that crime scene.”
As a result, Shlifka said, he is requesting Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer to find Williams guilty of failing to report an accident involving a death and reckless homicide, which are Class 1 and 3 felonies respectively.
Prosecutors allege Williams was driving on Plainfield Road near Plainsman Court in rural Oswego Township on June 23, 2018 when he killed Stanton, who was 26 years old when she died, in a hit and run crash. Stanton, who was the head softball coach at OHS and a math intervention specialist at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville, was walking along the side of the road on the 3 foot paved area between the fog line and the grass.
Stanton was allegedly struck by Williams – who was driving the silver Chrysler Pacifica that belonged to his girlfriend Eurydice Banford, who testified as a witness in court on Monday – at about 11 p.m. or midnight on June 24, 2018, according to prosecutors. Stanton's body was found at the base of a tree several feets from the side of the road the following afternoon by groundskeeper Ferenc Bosch, who also testified in court on Monday.
Shlifka said police found the vehicle – which had damage including the passenger side of the windshield being shattered, the front bumper hanging off from the same side and a missing headlight from the same side – three days later in the driveway of a man that works on cars to get it quickly fixed and before the damage and crime could be uncovered. He said Williams even made up a fabricated story about going to see another woman named Stephanie for a sexual affair.
Dawn Projansky, Williams's lawyer, said it's true that Williams didn't come clean to police immediately following the accident and that his original story didn't make sense. But after he came clean, she said, he never waivered from two statements: That he knew he hit something but not somebody, and that he checked his car for damage at the house that belonged to the mother of Zephaniah Cummings, who was in the car with Williams during the incident and is the mother of one of Williams's children, and was a few miles away.
“We believe that there will be no direct testimony that our client had knowledge that the accident involved striking another human being,” Projansky said.
Projansky said she also believes there will be no testimony from accident recreation experts to testify about her client’s poor driving. She said the only allegations are that the road was dark, which would be true at about midnight; that her client was unfamiliar with this road, which was also true; and that her client was not wearing prescription glasses, which she believes evidence will prove the prescription is classified as a mild correction.
“There is no doubt in our mind that this accident is a tragedy, but the question is whether Mr. Williams is criminally culpable for this tragedy,” Projansky said.
Cummings said she was in the back seat of the vehicle that Williams was driving with her two sons, one of which being the son of Williams. She said she never saw anything hit the windshield of the car – along with any hair, blood or clothing that was allegedly left behind – nor did she hear anything.
However, Cummings said, she definitely felt something hit the vehicle.
"I thought it was a deer, the way the impact felt," Cummings said.
Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer also heard witness testimony on Monday from Stanton's month, Lisa Stanton, who identified her daughter as the woman who died in the accident; Terry Klosak, Stanton's friend who was at the same wedding Stanton attended the night she died; and Nyia Cathey, a driver who saw Stanton walking along the grass part of the side of Plainfield Road, wearing a black dress and carrying her shoes in her hand .
Other witnesses who testified on Monday included Plainfield Police Sgt. Ron Mikos, who unknowingly caught footage of Stanton's body close to the time of her death with police car cameras; Laura Kernbauer, the mother of Stanton's boyfriend who found a white purse that held Stanton's driver's license, credit card and some cash; and Dep. Byron Maggos and Det. Bryan Harl with the Kendall County Sheriff's Office, who helped investigate the incident.
The update comes after Pilmer ordered a bench trial for Williams during a Wednesday, Jan. 8 court hearing after Williams willingly waived his right to a jury trial for the two charges. Williams also pleaded guilty to a driving with a revoked or suspended license charge, which is a Class 4 felony, during that hearing.
Prosecutors previously said the trial is anticipated to last for two to three days.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the courthouse, 807 W. John St.