Man pleads guilty in vehicular death

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Bainbridge man pleaded guilty Wednesday after signing a plea agreement in the vehicular death of a Greencastle teen.

Jeremy Wayne Crowder, 24, was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with prior convictions, resulting in the death of Rick Johnston, 17. The Class B felony is the largest charge against Crowder.

In the plea agreement, Crowder pleaded guilty to the Class B felony and the state dropped the lesser charges against him.

Because he plead guilty, Crowder gave up his legal right to a speedy trial and a trial by jury.

In May, Crowder and Johnston were traveling eastbound on County Road 775 West when the vehicle swerved off the road and rolled several times before becoming airborne.

During the hearing, Crowder confessed to consuming alcohol the night before the accident. He also confessed to having a blood-alcohol content level of .197 after the accident, well over the .08 legal limit in Indiana.

Family and friends of Johnston, clutching photos and wearing buttons bearing Johnston's image, sat inside the courtroom, listening to the proceedings. Superior Court Judge Robert Lowe asked if any of the family would like to comment on whether he should accept the plea agreement or not.

Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said that after talking with the Johnstons, they thought that Lowe should accept the plea agreement. The family's attorney, Jeff Boggess, concurred, but said that there was some initial disappointment that a plea agreement was created.

Under a Class B felony, Crowder could face 6-20 years of prison. Bookwalter told the BannerGraphic Thursday that the state would be looking at an executed sentence of 15-20 years. Because of his prior driving while intoxicated convictions, Bookwalter feels that Crowder "has not learned his lesson."

After the hearing, Tina Johnston, mother of Rick, said that the family was experiencing some disappointment because from the beginning the family was told there would be no plea agreement for Crowder.

According to Johnston, her son had only met Crowder two times prior to the accident, and that he was not out all night drinking with Crowder.

"I feel like the life has been sucked out of me," Johnston said after the hearing.

She also said she hopes Crowder realizes what he took away from the family.

The Johnston family has been receiving support from the family of Kelcey Sullivan, who was killed by his roommate on Nov. 20, 2005. According to both families, they were brought together by their faith and are united on a journey of hope.

Crowder's sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m., Friday, Nov. 10 in the Putnam County Superior Court.

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