VALPARAISO, Ind. (STMW) – A northwest Indiana sheriff’s deputy crashed into two parked vehicles after leaving a celebration of the sheriff’s election victory early Wednesday.
Porter County Sheriff’s Dept. Cpl. Ryan Fenters then spent most of the day in a holding cell at the Porter County Jail. He faces charges of drunken driving and leaving the scene of a crash.
Fenters, 34, of Hebron, was suspended from his duties, with pay, as the sheriff’s department conducts a separate internal investigation, the Post-Tribune is reporting.
Valparaiso and Indiana State Police are responsible for the criminal investigation of Fenters who, in 2004, received an award for catching drunken drivers.
Sheriff David Lain emphasized the charges are only allegations and Fenters’ suspension is an automatic response to his arrest — not a conclusion that he is guilty.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Lain said he had not seen the arrest report, but said if the allegations are true, it would be a poor reflection on his department.
“This sort of thing can occur in any profession and does. We’re all human beings and make mistakes,” Lain said. “Nobody likes to see this.”
According to police, Fenters left his department’s gathering at Pass Times, 175 Lincolnway in Valparaiso, shortly before he crashed at 1:36 a.m. into two parked vehicles in the 400 block of Indiana Avenue.
Two witnesses — one who came upon the crash shortly after it happened and the other who lives across the street and looked outside after hearing the noise — told police they saw a man running south from the scene.
Valparaiso police unsuccessfully used a canine to track the man who fled. Meanwhile, Fenters apparently went to Duffy’s Place bar, a half-mile away at 1154 Axe Ave., and borrowed a cell phone to call his wife.
A sheriff’s department co-worker picked up Fenters and drove him back to the crash scene after talking with Valparaiso police.
Fenters had cuts on his head and hand, which could explain the blood found in his green 2004 Ford Explorer left at the scene. He admitted being in the crash but blamed another driver for pulling out in front of him.
“I slammed on the brakes and skidded into another vehicle,” Fenters said, according to the police report. He could not describe the other vehicle other than it was “like a blur going by.”
He also admitted to having three beers at PassTimes before the crash and a fourth at Duffy’s after it.
Fenters refused to take field sobriety or blood alcohol tests, so his blood was drawn with a warrant from Judge David Chidester. The results were not available Wednesday.
Because of his refusal, Fenters had to be kept for the maximum amount of time — 13 hours — in a holding cell at the jail before he was eligible for bond. Lain said Fenters’ safety was not an issue because that area, for those staying less than 24 hours, is isolated from the general population.
Lain, who received a text message notifying him of the incident at 3:30 a.m., acknowledged the difficulty of arresting a fellow officer. He said that as soon as he arrived at work, he called Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner to “assure him that there’s no member of our department that is upset with a member of his department.”
Lain said he wants Fenters to be treated fairly in the legal process and for the investigation to be as vigorous as for any other alleged offender.
While alcohol was consumed at the department’s party, steps were taken to make sure everyone could get home safely and legally, he said.
Lain said a tow truck driver volunteered to take home anyone who shouldn’t drive, bringing their vehicles home as well. At least one partygoer took advantage of this service.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)