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No charges in fatal motorcycle accident

State’s attorney still investigating; lawsuit filed by the victim’s family

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Samuel L. Munz

STERLING – No charges have been filed in a fatal accident last summer north of Sterling, but the victim’s family has sued the other driver.

About 7:45 p.m. June 5, motorcyclist Samuel L. Munz, 53, of rural Sterling, was hit from behind by an SUV driven by Theresa A. Ruf, 42, of Chadwick. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Munz was riding his motorcycle on state Route 40 about a half-mile east of Ridge Road. He had stopped to turn left into his driveway when Ruf’s SUV hit him.

The Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department responded to the accident and received the help of an accident reconstruction expert from the state police. The sheriff sent information on the accident to the state’s attorney’s office, which makes decisions on the filing of charges, Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said.

“If they can’t make a decision, they take it to the grand jury,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said Tuesday that the accident still is being investigated.

In August, the executor of Munz’s estate, Jacob Munz, represented by Sterling attorney Jim Mertes, filed a lawsuit in Whiteside County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit claimed Ruf drove her car at a speed that endangered Munz’s safety, failed to reduce her speed to avoid an accident and failed to keep a proper lookout for traffic.

In November, Ruf, represented by Rock Falls attorney Lou Pignatelli, responded to the lawsuit, claiming that Munz failed to exercise due care for his safety. Much of the information in the response came from the state police’s accident reconstruction report.

The report said the motorcycle was not equipped with turn signals, which meant Munz was required to use hand and arm signals.

An accident witness told state police that he didn’t see Munz use hand and arm signals before he stopped to turn into his driveway. A state police officer reported he had seen someone fitting Munz’s description a few days before turning into the same driveway without using signals.

The officer also said the driver, possibly Munz, “wasn’t paying attention at all, to his surroundings or anything.”

The report said the motorcycle’s brake light was small, limiting its effectiveness in alerting other drivers.

The police also said the helmetless Munz had a barbiturate known as Hexobarbital in his system.

“It is a barbiturate derivative having hypnotic and sedative effects and was last widely used in the 1950s as an agent for inducing anesthesia for surgery ...” the report says. The drug can be quite dangerous and has been replaced with safer ones, according to the report.

The report did not indicate the amount of barbiturates in Munz’s system or whether they would have affected his ability to drive.

No evidence suggested that Ruf was impaired or that she was “actively distracted” by cellphone use, the report said.

In interviews with officers, Ruf said she believed the sun limited her visibility. However, officers found that the sun, which was low in the western sky at the time of the crash, was not a contributing factor.

“If Ruf felt the sun limited her visibility, the burden applied to her would be to reduce her speed to one that allows the safe operation of her vehicle,” the reports said.

In her response to the lawsuit, Ruf said the court should side with her if it finds Munz greater than 50 percent liable for his own damages.

Pignatelli and Mertes declined to comment Monday. Ruf works for Pignatelli.

Munz worked for Sterling Steel the last 9 years of his life and served as treasurer for Steelworkers Local 63.

His obituary said he enjoyed working with his cattle, working with horses and riding his Harleys.

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