By KEVIN NEVERS
The Michigan City man who was driving drunk when his pickup truck jumped a
median on U.S. Highway 20 in Porter last year and collided head-on with
Tracey Hall’s car is facing 10 years in prison under a plea agreement with
the Porter County Prosecutor.
At approximately 9:57 p.m. May 16, 2003, James A. Kelley, 45, was eastbound
on U.S. 20, about 257 feet east of Worthington Drive, when his pickup went
airborne and struck the westbound car driven by Hall, 35, a resident of
Porter and a dispatcher with the Portage Police Department.
Police said that Kelley registered a blood alcohol content of .275 percent
at the time of the crash, more than three times the legal limit of .08
Kelley, who was charged in a nine-count indictment, agreed to plead guilty
to causing death while operating while intoxicated with a prior conviction
within five years, a Class B felony punishable by a term of six to 20 years
in prison. Under deal, Kelley agreed to a sentence of 10 years in the
Department of Corrections and on his release from prison to a further 10
years on probation. In exchange, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mike Drenth
told the Chesterton Tribune today, the other eight charges will be dropped.
While on probation, Kelley’s driver’s license will be suspended for as few
as two and as many as five years, a determination to be made by Porter
Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Nov.
5, following arguments by Drenth and Kelley’s attorney. Kelley will also
have to submit to an alcohol evaluation and treatment program on his release
With good-time credit, Kelley will be eligible for release after serving
half of his sentence, or five years.
Drenth noted that the maximum term to which Kelley could have been sentenced
on the nine charges was 20 years, and that, had Kelley rejected the plea
agreement, his trial would had to have been “bifurcated.” In the first phase
the state would had to have proved that he was driving drunk when he caused
another person’s death, while in the second it would had to have proved that
he caused another person’s death while driving drunk within five year’s of a
previous OWI conviction. The previous conviction would be considered too
prejudicial to have been introduced in the first phase, Drenth said.
Among the other eight charges was one for causing the death of another
person while operating a vehicle with the presence of a Schedule I or
Schedule II substance or metabolyte in his system, but Drenth said that the
particular scheduled substance found in Kelley’s system was never made
Hall is survived by a son who was 11 at the time of the accident and a
daughter who was 6.