Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Cook

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 4:30 pm

Jury to weigh whether fight caused heart attack

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Testimony today in a trial involving a road rage incident that left a man dead last year centered on the victim's injuries and whether being punched in the face could trigger a fatal heart attack.

Dr. Scott Wagner, a forensic pathologist, performed the autopsy on Orlando Fernandez last August. He ruled the cause of death was a heart attack and the manner of death a homicide. 

"I can say with reasonable medical certainty that the battery was a major factor" in causing the heart attack that ultimately killed Fernandez, Wagner told the court Wednesday. 

Brandon Cook, 28, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery resulting in bodily injury in connection with Fernandez's death on Aug. 8. The manslaughter charge carries a penalty of up to six years in prison.

Fernandez had severe heart disease, Wagner and Fernandez's cardiologist, Dr. Kevin Hart, told the court. Fernandez had previous bypass surgery in 1997, Hart said. Having reviewed Wagner's autopsy report and having listened to a 911 call placed shortly after Cook allegedly punched Fernandez six times in the face, Hart said he believed that the heart attack was triggered by the incident. 

But Bart Arnold, Cook's defense attorney, said no one knows what Fernandez's emotional or mental state was in the lead up to the incident. It's possible, Arnold said, that Fernandez was suffering a heart attack prior to being hit by Cook. 

Witnesses who saw the incident have said they saw both men driving east on U.S. 30 in an area that narrowed traffic to one lane. After Cook's pickup truck entered the lane behind Fernandez, a witness saw Cook hit his brakes twice before he moved to the driver's side of the Mustang and stopped. 

Fernandez and Cook argued and Cook punched Fernandez an estimated six times in the face, prosecutors said.  

Closing arguments will begin Thursday.

dgong@jg.net