URBANA — A Rantoul woman told a Champaign County judge Friday that she felt coerced into performing oral sex on a paramedic in the back of an ambulance as she was being driven to a hospital.

The 49-year-old woman was the first and star witness Friday in the state’s case against Jeffrey Sanford Jr., 47, of Gifford. He is charged with criminal sexual assault in connection with conduct that occurred July 21, 2019.

Sanford, through his attorney, Tony Bruno of Urbana, waived his right to a jury trial and opted to have Judge Randy Rosenbaum hear the evidence against him.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink called five witnesses Friday, but because of the unavailability of a sixth, Rosenbaum continued the trial to Oct. 22, when it should conclude.

Sanford is charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault, which carry a mandatory prison term of between four and 15 years upon conviction. One alleges he forced the woman to perform the act, and the other alleges she was unable to give knowing consent to it.

As is customary before a trial begins, Rosenbaum asked the attorneys if a plea offer had been made. Alferink said she offered to let Sanford plead guilty to the count alleging the woman was unable to consent for a sentence not to exceed 10 years in prison. Sanford confirmed that he declined that offer.

On the stand for about 45 minutes, much of that under cross-examination by Bruno, the victim testified that she was feeling suicidal that night and felt she was having a nervous breakdown.

She was taken from the Rantoul Police Department to OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana by two employees of OSF Pro Ambulance.

Sanford, who is no longer employed with Pro Ambulance, was the paramedic in the back of the rig alone with her.

The woman said she recognized Sanford as a person who had helped her previously when she had overdosed on heroin. Body-camera video from a police officer showed her giving him a brief hug as they met in the lobby of the police station, prior to her transport.

She said she was sitting on the bench beside him on the ride making small talk, confirming that they had met before.

“He made the statement that I was pretty,” she said. “He looked me right in the eyes and ... then slowly took my head and unzipped his pants, and that’s when the oral sex began.”

She described him pushing her head toward his lap.

The woman testified that Sanford ejaculated and that she held the semen in her mouth until arriving at the emergency room, where she told a nurse she had been sexually assaulted.

“I motioned to the nurse to get a cup so I could spit. They knocked me out with some kind of drug because I screamed ‘He raped me,’ ... and the next thing I knew, I was on a stretcher to Carle,” she said. “I let some fall on the sheet to let her know what it was, then when I woke up at Carle Hospital, I had swallowed it.”

Ivey Spenard, the nurse taking care of the woman, testified that she told her she had been sexually assaulted in the ambulance by the paramedic who brought her in as he was walking out of the emergency room.

“She had a substance in her mouth,” Spenard testified. “It was visible.”

Spenard said because of the woman’s allegation, she had to be transferred to Carle for the collection of sex-assault evidence.

That happened about two hours after she had been at OSF Heart of Mary, Spenard said, because she was being treated for other issues.

Bruno asked if the woman requested a cup to spit in, but Spenard said she had not.

Champaign County sheriff’s deputy Robert DeRouchie said he interviewed Sanford in the early morning of July 22, recording the interview on his body camera.

Alferink and Bruno agreed that the judge could view that video, as well as a second, longer interview of Sanford done six months later by Detective Tim Beckett, between now and Oct. 22, when the trial resumes.

Beckett testified he interviewed Sanford on Feb. 3, after receiving a report from the Illinois State Crime lab. Beckett said the lab results showed that the odds were 1 in 12 quadrillion that the substance collected from the woman’s mouth came from someone other than Sanford.

In her opening statement, Alferink told the judge that Sanford initially denied to the deputy that anything happened with the woman in the ambulance.

Later, he claimed that she was a prostitute and that he had paid her to perform the sex act.

The woman denied that on the stand and conceded that Sanford never threatened her.

“I felt intimidated, and that’s why I did it,” she said. “A man opens up his pants. To me, that means rape, and I better do it to save my own life. I was afraid. He’s a considerably larger man than me. I was afraid.”

Beckett also testified about a phone call that Sanford had with his wife from the county jail following his arrest Feb. 3. He told her he had been accused of having sex with a patient.

“She asked if that was part of their sexual problem,” Beckett recounted, adding that Sanford said it was.

mschenk@news-gazette.com