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Woman Killed In DUI Crash At Horse Race Track

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Michelle Eustis

Michelle Eustis, 25, was killed in by an alleged drunk driver while riding a horse at Balmoral Park Racetrack on April 11, 2011. Police said her fiancé was the driver. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 04/12/11 – 6:28 p.m.

CRETE, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) – A horse driver from south suburban Crete is dead, after an accident with a drunken driver on the grounds of the Balmoral Park racetrack in south suburban Crete.

Police said the man behind the wheel is the victim’s fiancé. Another woman and a horse were also injured in the accident.

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Michelle Eustis, 25, of Crete, was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital of Cook County at 8:58 a.m. Monday, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Eustis, a 21-year-old woman, and a horse were on the grounds of the racetrack at 5:07 a.m., when all three were struck by a pickup truck, according to Illinois State Police Joliet District 5 Trooper Sam Heenan.

The younger woman suffered an injury to the leg and was taken to St. James Hospital and Health Care Center in Chicago Heights, state police said.

The driver of the pickup truck, Angus Lake, 41, of Riverdale, Mich., was charged with aggravated driving under the influence, state police told CBS 2.

State police say Lake and Eustis were engaged to be married.

Prosecutors said Lake drank “five or six shots” while in a barn at the Crete race track with Eustis and 21-year-old Heather France of Michigan.

The women decided to go riding bareback on a horse, prosecutors said, and Lake went looking for them in a white Dodge Ram pickup 30 minutes later.

Will County Asst. State’s Atty. Mary Fillipitch said Lake drove his truck up behind the women’s horse at 5:07 a.m. on Backstretch Road and hit his brakes hard, causing his truck to rotate and hit the horse. She said the horse suffered a severe gouge on its back, and there is damage to the right rear of Lake’s truck.

Lake’s blood-alcohol level after the accident was 0.147, Fillipitch said, which is nearly twice the legal limit. He faces four counts of aggravated DUI. Each carries up to 14 years in prison.

Will County Judge Marzell L. Richardson Jr. set Lake’s bail at $500,000 after the state’s attorney’s office asked for a bond of $1 million.

Kurt Leinweber, Lake’s public defender, called that request “way out of line.” He pointed to the damage to the rear of Lake’s vehicle to question the prosecutors’ story. “Are we to believe the defendant is driving in reverse?” Leinweber said.

Appearing via video, Lake said he could raise $5,000 for bond. But Richardson’s ruling means he would need to pay $50,000. He was also told to have no contact with France.

Fillipitch said her office didn’t find a previous felony conviction for Lake, though she said he told officers he had one in his past. Instead, she said Lake was previously convicted of misdemeanors in Michigan and Ohio.

Lake has no Illinois driver’s license, Fillipitch said, and might have recently moved to Crete from Michigan, where she said he does have a valid license.

According to the Balmoral Park Racetrack website, Lake had been the driver of 12 horses from January 1 through March 21. In those 12 starts, he failed to win one race. But he had one second-place finish, and two third-place finishes. The total purse won by horses he drove was $2,154, according to the website.

Mike Belmonte, general manager at the track, said Lake is an independent contractor who works at the park. He said Eustis is the daughter of Charles Eustis III, trainer of a horse named St. Elmo Hero, which won 25 races in a row.

“It was a quite a shock to everybody, an accident like that always is. It’s something this is unforeseen and a shock to everybody. Things go on, just a little sadder,” said Belmonte, who said racing will go on as scheduled Wednesday night.

Lake is set to appear in court next on May 3.

(The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)

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