Chesterton Tribune

Guilty plea in drunk driving accident that killed Tracey Hall

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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 percent.

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 from prison.

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 public.

Hall is survived by a son who was 11 at the time of the accident and a daughter who was 6.


Posted 8/18/2004