Chesterton Tribune

BHPD: Shift Change bartender dragged to death beneath car

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Burns Harbor Town Marshal Jerry Price is describing the death on Saturday of a Shift Change Tap employee as the most “despicable” thing he’s ever seen, after she was struck by a car in the bar’s parking lot and dragged over a mile by a Portage man who Price said was trying to flee the Shift Change.

The victim was identified as Sheri Jania, 45, a long-time bartender at the Shift Change.

James Lohman III, 49, was being held at the Porter County Jail on preliminary charges of reckless homicide and operating while intoxicated, both Class C felonies punishable by a term of two to eight years.

Price gave this account of the incident to the Chesterton Tribune today. At around 4 p.m. on Saturday, three people, including Lohman and a 14-year-old juvenile, entered the Shift Change, located at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 20 and Ind. 149. Jania—who was off duty at the time—informed the three that juveniles were not permitted at the bar and that they would have to leave.

The three did exit the Shift Change, Price said, but Jania subsequently learned that the three had been involved in an “altercation” at a residence to the east of Shift Change. At that point Jania contacted police, then exited the bar herself and took a position behind Lohman’s vehicle—a 1997 Mercury Cougar two-door, copper in color, parked near the entrance and facing west—in an effort to get the license plate number. Lohman, however—with his two companions in the vehicle—began to back up and Jania moved to the front of the car.

Lohman then “flat ran over her,” Price said. “There was no way he could not have seen her.”

Lohman continued westbound on U.S. 20, dragging Jania, whose body was finally dislodged near Salt Creek Road, 1.2 miles from the Shift Change, Price said.

Jania was pronounced dead at the scene of multiple blunt force trauma, said Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris, who told the Tribune that she had been caught beneath the underbody of the car. An autopsy was to be scheduled, Harris said.

“This was the most despicable, heartless act I’ve ever seen,” said Price, who knew Jania well. “I’ve seen a lot of bad things. But that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen one human do to another.”

Lohman, meanwhile, continued to flee but was observed by a Portage Police officer in the area of U.S. 20 and Willowcreek Road, Portage Police said. The officer attempted to execute a traffic stop at U.S. 20 and Douglas Street but instead its driver turned northbound onto Old Porter Road, where it finally came to a stop outside the Oaks Mobile Home Park, the PPD said.

The officer removed Lohman from the vehicle and held all three—including the 14-year-old boy—at gunpoint until backup units arrived, the PPD. The boy was then himself removed from the vehicle but the third passenger refused to open the passenger’s door, prompting Cpl. Ted Uzelac of the PPD to break the window, the PPD said. Uzelac sustained a laceration to the arm requiring stitches, Price said.

While officers were still at the scene on Old Porter Road, the PPD added, a man identifying himself as the boy’s father was arrested on a charge of public intoxication. The man advised that “his son had called him, telling him to come to the area because the vehicle he was riding in was being stopped by the police,” the PPD said.

“Sheri was a cool lady,” Price said. “She was always the peacemaker, the sense of reason when the alcohol was flowing.”

“Folks have said to me ‘You never hear of anything like this happening in little Burns Harbor,’” Price added. “I’ve said to them ‘You don’t hear of this happening anywhere.’ It’s just sick, a despicable act.”

Price did express his gratitude to a host of other agencies for their assistance on Saturday, including Sgt. John McMahon of the Porter Police Department, who helped to preserve the scene at U.S. 20 and Salt Creek Road and to take photographs; the Porter Fire Department, which was returning from a dive call in Ogden Dunes and deployed its boat to block the westbound lanes of U.S. 20 just east of the Shift Change; and Portage PD, which mustered its crash reconstruction team.

Both Price and Assistant Town Marshal Mike Heckman responded immediately but, as Price observed, “I didn’t have enough people to preserve the multiple scenes. Everybody was on the same page all at once and we appreciated the help.”

 

 

 

Posted 9/6/2011