The Journal Gazette
Thursday, June 20, 2019 1:00 am

Heart attack cause center of trial

Forensic testimony: Battery a 'major factor'

DAVE GONG | For The Journal Gazette

Testimony Wednesday 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 jury Wednesday. 

Brandon Cook, 28, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery resulting in bodily injury in Fernandez's death 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 jury. 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 leading up to the incident. It's possible, Arnold said, that Fernandez was suffering a heart attack before 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, according to prosecutors. 

Naomi Cramer, Cook's ex-girlfriend, was in the passenger seat of Cook's truck when the incident occurred, she told the jury Wednesday.

She said she saw Fernandez “brake check” Cook while cursing out his window. When the pair pulled their vehicles over, both Cook and Fernandez exited their cars, Cramer said. 

“Both were mad at the same time,” Cramer said, adding she saw Fernandez grab Cook by the throat, breaking a set of dog tags he wore around his neck.

However, Fort Wayne police Officer Martin Grooms testified Cramer never told him about the broken dog tags when he interviewed her last year. 

Cramer said Cook took off after he learned that Fernandez had died. She added that at the time, she didn't know here he had gone.

Fort Wayne police Detective Derek Demorest told the jury he was contacted Aug. 13 and asked to help find Cook, 28, who had fled the state after the incident. 

Demorest testified Cook was believed to be driving a green Kawasaki motorcycle and had received a money order in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Cook was arrested at a campground in the popular vacation destination Aug. 16. 

Closing arguments will begin today.

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