The Fort Wayne man who escaped an involuntary manslaughter conviction for a road rage incident that turned deadly last year also avoided time in prison when he was sentenced Tuesday.
Brandon M. Cook, 28, punched 60-year-old Orlando Fernandez at least four times Aug. 8, after both men had been driving east on U.S. 30, near Goshen Road.
A jury found Cook not guilty of involuntary manslaughter – a charge that carries a penalty of up to six years in prison – but convicted him of misdemeanor battery.
He was sentenced in Allen Superior Court to a year behind bars and was given credit for 251 days he's already spent in jail.
Indiana sentencing guidelines for misdemeanors allow for one day of credit for each day spent incarcerated, meaning defendants serve half their executed sentence.
Defense attorney Bart Arnold said after the sentence was handed down his client could have been released Tuesday. A spokesman for the Allen County Sheriff's Department, which operates the jail, said Cook was still there as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Fernandez was driving in front of Cook on U.S. 30, in an area where construction narrowed the busy road to one lane.
The men stopped, and Cook punched the older man, according to police and witnesses who testified at trial last week.
Fernandez later died of a heart attack doctors said was caused by the beating.
Arnold had questioned whether the punches led to the heart attack and said no one could know what Fernandez's mental or emotional state was leading up to the altercation.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said in a statement she is proud of police for their investigation and finding Cook, who fled to Florida after learning Fernandez died.
“We are disappointed, on behalf of Mr. Fernandez's family, with the jury's verdict finding Cook not guilty of involuntary manslaughter,” she said. “However, we will pursue justice and work on behalf of this community and for families whose loved ones have been victims of crime. We will continue to file and take difficult cases to trial and enforce the laws of the state of Indiana.”
Cook wore a jail-issued orange jumpsuit and sat next to his lawyer at the sentencing hearing. Asked by Judge Fran Gull if there was anything he wanted to say, Cook quietly replied, “No.”
His girlfriend, who was a passenger in the Dodge pickup Cook drove on the day Fernandez died, told police the man driving the black Ford Mustang had “brake checked” and “flipped them off.”
That led to as many as six punches to Fernandez's face, leaving him bruised and with a cut over one eye, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tesa Helge said.
“The only thing Mr. Fernandez might have done is hit his brakes,” she said. “(The attack) was completely unprovoked.”