Jury awards $4 million in hit-run despite charges not being filed

A Cook County jury Thursday levied damages of $4.2 million against a Chicago waste hauling firm and one of its drivers in connection with the hit-and-run death of a woman in the West Loop — even though no criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Insurance executive Patricia Hartman, 43, was killed in September 2002 by what witnesses described as a red dump truck. Police traced the truck to Premier Waste & Recycling, and found that one of its drivers, Robert Dabisch, 47, of Chicago Ridge, was working in the area at the time of the accident.

But after a witness who claimed to see the driver of the truck failed to identify Dabisch in a lineup, prosecutors declined to bring charges. However, Hartman’s longtime boyfriend, Brian O’Donnell, pursued the case in civil court.

“You can’t let something like this go, it would have been unfair to Patricia,” O’Donnell said.

For nearly 15 years O’Donnell and Hartman had met after work in the West Loop so they could drive together to their Skokie home. On the day Hartman died, O’Donnell arrived 5 minutes late to their meeting spot at Jefferson and Randolph, only to see an ambulance pull away. Shortly afterward he learned the tragic news.

Video evidence key to case
During the civil case, O’Donnell’s attorney, Paul Nemoy, showed jurors surveillance tapes from a White Hen Pantry that appeared to show a truck with custom parts and a two-tone paint job similar to trucks operated by Premier. But a police investigator said there was no evidence any Premier truck had been in an accident and no witnesses initially reported seeing the Premier logo on the truck involved in the accident.

O’Donnell believes the tape was a major factor in the verdict. “There was footage that showed them right at the corner of the accident at the same time,” he said. “Any reasonable person would say: ‘These are the guys.’ “

An attorney for Dabisch and the firm could not be reached for comment. They have denied the charges to police and in court documents.

O’Donnell said he was grateful to police and the witnesses who came forward, but says he and Hartman’s family will not get closure until the driver admits what happened. “That’s all the family and I wanted was for somebody to accept responsibility.”

The criminal case remains open.

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