Man acquitted of manslaughter in deadly road rage incident

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — A jury has acquitted a Fort Wayne man of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a road rage situation on U.S. 30 that turned deadly last year.

Brandon M. Cook was found guilty of battery, however, related to his fight with 60-year-old Orlando Fernandez, who died after an altercation along U.S. 30 on August 8. Cook’s sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25.

The jury deliberated for almost 5 hours Thursday before reaching a decision.

Brandon Cook showed no emotion Thursday as the prosecution laid out the reasons the believe he should be found guilty in the death of  Fernandez. 

A prosecutor argued that Cook “beat the life” out of Fernandez on the side of U.S. 30, even though he only intended to “beat the hell out of him,” referencing a text message Cook sent hours after the fight. 

Portions of the 911 calls made by two witnesses and Fernandez himself were played again for the Jury. 

Fernandez told the operater that he was just attacked, and that he couldn’t see out of one eye and his glasses were broken. 

The prosecutor pointed out that Fernandez started off strong – but made a sharp decline during the call. In the end, he was gasping for air and repeated that he couldn’t breathe. 

Cook’s attorney relied heavily on the testimony of one doctor who described Fernandez’s severely diseased heart.  He said Fernandez was at risk of sudden death at any time and even extreme anger could have caused the heart attack. 

He argued that Fernandez Started and actively participated in the road rage fight knowing he had a heart condition.  He said “two men lost their temper that day – one had a bad heart.” 

On day one of the jury trial, several witnesses took the stand, including two men who called 911 after seeing the fight. Perhaps the most compelling evidence presented in court was audio of the 911 call made by Fernandez himself.

It was just before 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8 when police were called to U.S. 30 near the US 33 interchange on multiple reports of a battery. Responders arrived and and found a man in serious condition.

That man – Fernandez – was downgraded to critical condition at the scene, and he was pronounced dead by doctors at a local hospital.

Witnesses told police the confrontation began when the driver of a black Mustang wouldn’t let the driver of a gold pickup truck merge. It escalated when both cars pulled over to the side of the road and witnesses saw the man in the pickup truck get out and punch the driver of the mustang several times.

The driver of the pickup has been identified as Cook. Fernandez called 911 minutes after the beating. The audio recording of that call was played in court today.

Several of Fernandez’s family members had to leave during that time. Many overwhelmed with emotion listening to what would have likely been Fernandez’s final words.

He told the operator about the altercation, described his location and said he was having chest pains. He also said he had a heart condition. Minutes into the call he could be heard saying “please hurry” and “I can’t breathe.”

An autopsy determined Fernandez died of a heart incident directly triggered by the stress of the altercation. His death was ruled a homicide.

On the second day of the jury trial Cook’s ex-girlfriend Naomi Cramer took the stand. Cramer said she and Cook dated on and off for about a year and a half. She was in the passenger seat of Cook’s pickup truck during the road rage incident and saw it all unfold.

Cramer testified that she and Cook had just dropped his children off. As they were trying to merge onto U.S. 30, she said Fernandez kept brake checking them.

She said both drivers were angry and pulled over to the side of the highway. Then she saw Cook walk up to Fernandez, who was standing near his car, and punch him repeatedly.

She said after the fight they drove to an auto body shop owned by Cook at the time. Then Cook posted on Facebook that he “taught somebody a lesson today.”

Cramer testified that he deleted the post and went on the run after learning Fernandez died.

He left the gold pickup truck that was involved in the altercation behind. He reportedly left for Florida the next day and asked Cramer to sell everything from his shop and send the money.

Cramer said that she sold all of his tools from his shop for about $1,000 cash. She testified that she kept $200 for herself, then used the rest to pay his rent. She said she never sent Cook any money.

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