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For more than two years, the families of two young men killed in a Thanksgiving Day collision with an off-duty Chicago police officer have fought to prove the officer was drunk and responsible for the deaths.
But Tuesday, a Cook County judge handed them their latest setback, saying the officer was arrested and detained without probable cause, a ruling the families fear guts the prosecution's case.
Several relatives of one victim erupted in anger at the decision, shouting obscenities and scuffling with court deputies, creating a scene that revealed the raw emotions behind the long and controversial case.
Three relatives of Miguel Flores, 22, who was killed in the 2007 crash, were taken to a holding cell in the Criminal Courts Building but later released. The sheriff's office said it would not press charges even though two deputies were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
"It's a slap in the face," said Jose Lagunas, father of the second victim, Erick Lagunas, 21. "We are the ones suffering and then the deputies come after us."
Circuit Judge Thomas Gainer ruled police had no probable cause to arrest off-duty Officer John Ardelean, 36.
Ardelean initially was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving, but by January 2008 the charges were upgraded to felony counts of aggravated driving under the influence.
Prosecutors cited a video recording from a nightclub they said showed Ardelean drinking three beers and four shots in a little more than two hours. Shortly after that, his SUV slammed into the victims' car at Damen and Oakdale avenues while traveling more than 60 mph, authorities said.
The next month, a judge dismissed the charges, not convinced by a prosecution expert who calculated that Ardelean's blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been above the legal threshold. He had been ordered by a superior to give a Breathalyzer test nearly eight hours after the crash, but Ardelean was well below the legal threshold.