Daze Work: Shot-in-the-dark road rage incident leaves local couple rattled

Monday, August 16, 2021

Having known Mike Harmless for nearly 40 years, seldom -- if ever -- has he appeared rattled.

Not during his two terms as mayor of Greencastle. Not during an All-America City White House Rose Garden ceremony at which President George Herbert Walker Bush quoted Harmless. Or even during his unsuccessful campaign for Congress a couple years later.

OK, maybe that morning in San Antonio after he’d devoured some spicy hot Cajun prime rib the night before. But that was more stomach distress than a case of nerves.

Bullet hole in passenger rear door of Mike and Susie Harmless' Ford Escape.

But Mike admitted being rattled by the harrowing experience he and wife Susie endured last week.

The Harmlesses were coming home from visiting daughter Heather on the north side of Indianapolis the other night when they became victims of road rage, suddenly living every motorist’s worst nightmare as a handgun was fired at their Ford Escape.

Mike picks up the story ...

Bullet is the floor of the backseat of the Harmless car.

“It was 9 o’clock or so when we left and went back on I-70. There’s a lot of construction on I-70 right now, even nighttime construction. We got through Hendricks County fine and then got into some nighttime construction, I think in Morgan County, because there is no Putnam County construction on I-70.”

The interstate narrows to one lane with the right lane closed in that sliver of I-70 in northwest Morgan County. It was there that the Harmlesses’ unexpected brush with road rage unfolded.

“This car comes up on our right side, so aggressively,” Mike said in sharing their story at my request. “They had nowhere to go. They would have gone into the barricades if they’d not slowed down.”

Most of us have experienced something similar in a construction zone. There’s always that one driver who has ignored all the “one lane ahead” signs for the past couple miles and thinks he can run in the closing lane until the bitter end and then slide into the single lane ahead of other traffic.

In this case, Harmless said he had nowhere to go and his four-cylinder Escape doesn’t have enough acceleration that he could surge ahead and let the other car fall in behind him. Most cars had gotten over but the suspect vehicle “came screaming down on us,” Mike said.

So the out-of-control driver -- presumably a male with long hair at the wheel of what may have been a Dodge Charger or something similar -- ended up cutting off the car behind the Harmlesses.

“The car behind us really could have been wrecked when he came over so aggressively,” Mike recalled. “I told Susie, ‘this person is driving crazy.’”

He hadn’t realized just how crazy at that point.

As the car came up behind the Harmlesses and opportunity presented itself to get past the westbound Greencastle couple, the apparent road rage took a dangerous turn.

“I said, ‘He’s going to hit us,’” Mike said from the driver’s seat as an audible pop was heard. “Susie said, ‘I think that was a shot.’

“My naive opinion was that he hit us,” Mike continued as Susie maintained from the passenger seat that, “No, that was a gun shot. It just sounded like a loud pop.”

It was indeed a shot in the dark.

The bullet went through the rear passenger door of the Escape “at a little bit of an angle,” came through the plastic interior of the door and lodged itself under the back seat, where Mike recovered it after the couple was safely home in their Barrington Hills garage.

“He took off so fast. He was gone,” Mike said of his antagonist. “We were so rattled.”

Rattled enough that when a state trooper asked if they’d gotten his license plate, only then did they realize they had not. “What kind of car was he driving?” was the trooper’s next question. The Harmlesses had no recollection only later believing the perpetrator may have been driving a Dodge Charger.

The situation came so completely out of nowhere, the seriousness only later began to sink in.

Mike and Susie have been contemplating how lucky they were that they didn’t have a tire shot out at high speed along the interstate. They were lucky the bullet didn’t hit their gas tank, which is on that side of the vehicle.

“And thank goodness,” Susie added, “nobody was sitting in the backseat.”

The incident, Mike said, apparently isn’t that unusual these days.

“People need to heed this,” he said, recalling hearing stories about drag racing going on along the interstate with cars running 115 or 120 mph. “The state trooper said this is happening more often. The message we need to put forth is that for some reason, some drivers are so angry. There seem to be a lot of really angry people driving aggressively out there.”

The trooper also postulated that “if you get anybody driving that aggressively, just assume they have a gun.”

Mike noted that the reason he and Susie were so willing to share their story was that people need to know about the anger and violence that exist out on the road.

It may be just a random act of violence, but to the Harmlesses or anyone else in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can have dire consequences.

Despite a couple days to think about what happened, Mike and Susie are still surprised about the incident.

“This kind of thing always happens to somebody else,” Susie said.

“I’m really shocked something like that can happen,” Mike said. “It’s not like it happened in downtown Indianapolis or Chicago. It was on the interstate in rural Indiana.”

Then on Friday, Harmless found himself back on I-70, commuting to Indianapolis and trying not to relive the nightmare of a couple nights earlier.

“Man, I was very, very cautious,” he confided. “If anyone was wanting to get over, I gave them plenty of room and let them get over.

“I don’t want to ever experience that again.”

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    Get a dashcam.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Mon, Aug 16, 2021, at 7:31 PM
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