Chesterton Tribune

Driver faces 12 counts in death of local woman

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Culver man who police said was driving drunk and stoned when he struck and killed Orvilla J. Gerhardt early Saturday morning as she was getting her newspaper is facing a 12-count charge in the death of the 82-year-old Center Township woman.

Jonathan B. Gaskill, 27, was charged late this morning with two counts of causing the death of another person while operating a motor vehicle, a Class B felony, the first count for being at least 21 years of age and operating the vehicle with a controlled substance in his system, the second for being at least 21 years of age and operating the vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .15 percent or higher.

Those two charges—added to reflect a new state statute which took effect July 1 and kicks the charge up to a Class B felony for defendants 21 or older—are in addition to 10 others filed against Gaskill on Monday: two counts of causing the death of another person while operating a motor vehicle, a Class C felony, the first count for operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in his body, the second for operating a vehicle while intoxicated; and one count of reckless homicide, also a Class C felony.

In addition, Gaskill was charged Monday with one count of operating a vehicle with a specified amount of a controlled substance in his body, a Class C misdemeanor; one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a Class C misdemeanor; one count of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or above, a Class A misdemeanor; one count of operating a vehicle with a B.A.C. of .15 percent or above; one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated-endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor; one count of possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor; and one count of possession of paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor.

Porter County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel explained today that, should Gaskill be convicted on any or all of these charges, for sentencing purposes convictions on the “lesser and added” charges would “merge” into the conviction on the most serious charge, either of the two Class B felonies, which are punishable by a term of six to 20 years in prison. If convicted of the two drug charges—possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia—Gaskill could also be sentenced to two additional years in prison, one for each of those two Class A misdemeanors.

Gensel added that, in cases such as this one, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office files all charges supported by the evidence as collected by investigators, and then leaves it to the jury in its deliberations to determine on which particular charges to convict the defendant.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by Det. William Young of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police—who interviewed Gaskill in the hospital after he crashed his vehicle into a utility pole in the vicinity of C.R. 500N and Ind. 149—Gaskill admitted to drinking earlier in the evening at the Court Restaurant in Valparaiso, then at the Deja Vu club in Lake Station, and later at a bachelor party somewhere in the Valparaiso area. Gaskill recalled leaving the party and believing himself to be close to home, Young stated in his affidavit, when he heard a thud and then either fell asleep or passed out. Gaskill recalled only one crash, Young further stated, but Gaskill did say that he had exited his vehicle “to look around,” thought “that he might have hit a person,” and that “it would be awful if this happened.”

Gaskill was found around 5:45 a.m. in his vehicle, which was facing southwest and blocking both lanes of C.R. 500N, east of Gerhardt’s home at 294W 500N. Young stated in his affidavit that Gaskill—who appeared to have sustained an abrasion to his neck and upper chest from his seat belt and a small abrasion on his left leg—failed several field sobriety tests and subsequently registered a blood alcohol content of .26 percent on a blood test as well as tested positive for the presence of marijuana in his system.

At the scene of the crash, Young stated, Gaskill told the responding officer that “She swerved” but could not say who “She” was. Meanwhile, Gerhardt’s body had been found lying in a grassy area and witnesses advised police that they believe they heard the noise of the fatal collision between 5:20 and 5:30 a.m. Police said that at the second crash site Gaskill’s 1996 Mercury Sable was found to have sustained heavy front passenger side and windshield damage. Bond has been set for Gaskill at $20,000.

An obituary for Gerhardt appears elsewhere in this edition of the Chesterton Tribune.

 

Posted 9/1/2004