Ford coroner's jury rules Christmas night death a homicide

PAXTON — A Ford County coroner’s jury ruled Wednesday night that the death of a suburban Chicago man following a Christmas night bar fight in Buckley was a homicide.

The jury said that Daniel K. Connolly, 25, of Lyons died from positional asphyxiation due to his compromised position while being constrained by others.

The jury echoed the finding of  Dr. Shiping Bao, a forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Mr. Connolly on Dec. 27. Mr. Connolly suffered from bronchial asthma, and Buckley firefighters who manned the ambulances at the scene testified to the jury that two men used their body weight to hold down Mr. Connolly.

Sgt. Eric Starkey of the Iroquois County Sheriff’s Department — a detective who investigated the death — testified that it was Mike Bristle and Steve Niemann who had restrained Mr. Connolly.

Tyler Ecker, an emergency medical technician who responded to the scene, said Mr. Connolly was found lying in a grassy lot north of the Dutchmaster Bar at 114 S. Railroad Ave. in Buckley.

Ecker said Mr. Connolly was not moving and unconscious when he reached him. Ecker said he found no pulse and administered CPR. Mr. Connolly was administered fluids with an IV and was injected with Narcan and epinephrine per protocol, Ecker said.

Mr. Connolly was transported by ambulance to Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City, where he was pronounced dead at 12:31 a.m. Dec. 26. That was only about an hour after the Iroquois County Sheriff’s Department responded to the fight at the bar following a 911 call made by the bartender.

Both Ecker and Tim Woodmansee, a Buckley firefighter, testified that by their calculations, Mr. Connolly had been restrained for 15 to 20 minutes. Starkey said he was told that while Mr. Connolly was on his knees he was restrained face-down with his arms above his head.

Mr. Connolly’s mother, Roxanne Denney, said after the inquest that the jury’s ruling “was justice.”

“No one deserves to die,” she added, noting the family was just celebrating Christmas in the area.

Denney said her sons have been portrayed as outsiders.

“We have a (weekend) home here. It’s not like we just got here. We’ve been coming down six years and loved it. Not anymore,” Denney said.

Kevin Connolly, Mr. Conolly’s father, said the “media’s been wrong portraying this,” adding that “this is the first step to justice.”

Brennan Connolly, Mr. Conolly’s brother, noted that he was the only one that night placed into a squad car.

“The coroner (Doug Wallace) all along told us that he was suffocated,” Brennan Connolly said.

Another brother, Joe Pizzuto, was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana that night with injuries sustained in the fight.

“It was a lynch mob, 30 people jumping on us,” Pizzuto said. “This is the first step to justice. Nothing will bring him back.”

Toxicology and histology results showed Mr. Connolly tested positive for alcohol — with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.183 percent — plus cocaine and cannabis.

Iroquois County Sheriff Derek Hagen said previously that statements from an estimated dozen or more witnesses indicated that Mr. Connolly was a willing participant

in the fight. Hagen said the fight appeared to have been between Mr. Connolly and only one other man — Shayne Weber, 24, of rural Loda — although Hagen said there were several other people present who tried to break it up, one of whom was injured.

Tensions between Mr. Connolly and Weber escalated earlier in the night, Hagen said, when they got into an argument while inside the bar.

“Mr. Connolly and one of his brothers were asked to leave the bar, which they did,” Hagen said.

Later, Mr. Connolly returned to the downtown area with his brother, as well as a second brother who was not with him earlier, Hagen said. As they approached the bar,

Weber was outside on the sidewalk talking with another person, Hagen said, and words were then exchanged between Mr. Connolly and Weber.

Hagen said he does not know what was said, but “what we do know is that Mr. Connolly started battering Shayne Weber.”

Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine did not immediately return messages requesting comment on whether criminal charges will be filed.



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