SOUTH BELOIT — The South Beloit officer who fatally struck a pedestrian with his squad car on Aug. 23, 2020 claims he did not see the man in the roadway prior to the crash, according to records obtained by the Beloit Daily News.
Through an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request, the newspaper has reviewed initial police reports and dash camera video of the incident in which patrol officer Sawyer Kurth hit 35-year-old Michael Guzman, of Rockford, at around 2:30 a.m. near the intersection of Whittemore Drive and Blackhawk Boulevard (Illinois Route 2).
The dash camera video from the squad vehicle shows Kurth driving south on Blackhawk in the left lane when an object appears to be illuminated by the headlights of the vehicle. As Kurth drives closer, Guzman is clearly seen walking in the roadway along the left-hand side of the road near the median, before being struck. The video also appears to show that Kurth did not attempt to slow down prior to the crash
“I was unable to take any evasive action to avoid the collision due to me not observing the pedestrian in the roadway prior to my vehicle striking him,” Kurth wrote in his initial report of the incident. “I was unaware that there was any person or object in the roadway and I was only able to recognize that I had struck a pedestrian after the impact with my patrol vehicle.”
After the crash, Kurth requested EMS to respond before rendering first-aid to Guzman. Guzman was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The dash camera video appears to show Guzman walking in the roadway along the left-hand, solid yellow line. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by his estate in Winnebago County Circuit Court claims he was walking in the grassy median that separates northbound and southbound traffic.
The lawsuit alleges Kurth was distracted while driving, drove his vehicle off the roadway and failed to sound his horn before striking Guzman. Video of the incident does not appear to show Kurth attempting to avoid the crash, and audio during the time of impact was redacted before release to the Beloit Daily News.
The Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office has declined to pursue criminal charges against Kurth, citing the evidence provided by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office following an independent investigation into the incident.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney J Hanely said in a statement that his office had reviewed witness testimony that states a bystander observed a man matching Guzman’s description walking in the roadway that appeared to be intoxicated and had difficulty walking.
A toxicology report, cited by Hanley, states that Guzman had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.251. According to Illinois law, a person is intoxicated if the blood alcohol level exceeds 0.08.
“The death of Mr. Guzman was a tragedy. However, based on the evidence in this case, I cannot conclude that the police officer committed a criminal act,” Hanley said.