Bainbridge man charged with vehicular death

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Bainbridge man has been charged in connection to the vehicular death of a Greencastle teen last weekend.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 21 Greencastle High School junior Rick Allen Johnston, 17, died alone in a northern Putnam County cornfield.

Roachdale firefighters discovered his body, seatbelted into the front passenger seat of a 1992 Toyota vehicle at approximately 4:40 a.m. Outside the car, they found parts of the vehicle's exterior, a piston from the engine and a case of beer.

The suspected driver of the car, Jeremy Wayne Crowder, 23, now faces charges in Putnam Superior Court of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, driving while suspended, false informing and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Crowder is currently being held at the Putnam County Jail.

His bond has been set at $500,000 with 10 percent cash allowed. If convicted on all counts, he could face 8-28 years in prison.

Initially, Crowder told police he had not been the driver of the vehicle, but had been seated in the back seat.

He also claimed that two other passengers, in addition to Johnston had been in the car, although police and firefighters found only Johnston.

A crash reconstruction performed by the Indiana State Police indicated if other passengers had been present, they would have been too seriously injured to have left the scene. The reconstruction showed that if Crowder had been seated where he said he was, he would have sustained much worse injuries. Also, one of Crowder's shoes was found near the driver's seat.

At Putnam County Hospital, where he had been taken after complaining of pain to his chest, shoulder and hand, Crowder changed his story.

According to court documents, Crowder told police he had been the driver of the car as he and Johnston left a graduation party south of Union Chapel Church near Clinton Falls on Saturday evening.

He said after leaving the party they drove to a friend's residence south of Bridgeton Road in Brazil. The crash occurred as they returned home, traveling eastbound on U.S. 36.

He had told police earlier that the crash occurred as the vehicle had swerved to avoid collision with another vehicle near CR 775 West (one mile east of the Parke County Line).

After the crash, Crowder told police, the scene was eerily quite. Crowder said he left the teen to go for help.

He found help at the home of Dale Barker, 7822 W. U.S. 36. Barker described Crowder, who knocked on his door, as intoxicated.

Blood tests showed Crowder's blood alcohol content (BAC) to be .19 percent. In Indiana, .08 BAC is considered legally intoxicated.

Although he couldn't explain to police why he had been driving and not Johnston, Crowder told officers they could find other alcoholic containers inside the car.

According to the records, Crowder told police he "had never hurt anybody in his life and wished it was him that was killed."

Crowder has outstanding warrants in Montgomery County for a probation violation and in Vigo County for larceny.

His has a pretrial hearing scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 26.

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