New Charges In Hit-And-Run That Killed Indiana Officer
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CROWN POINT, Ind. (CBS) – New criminal charges have been filed against the 42-year-old man already accused in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Lake County correctional officer, and injured three other officers last week.
Lake County correctional officer Britney Meux, 25, was killed last Tuesday when she was struck by an SUV while jogging with three colleagues near the county jail.
Jason Cozmanoff — of Lake of the Four Seasons, Ind. — already faced one count of failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and three charges of failure to stop after an accident resulting in serious bodily injury. On Tuesday, prosecutors added one charge of reckless homicide and three charges of criminal recklessness.
Police say Cozmanoff, an unemployed bricklayer, has a checkered driving history that includes previous drunken driving charges.
Police have not said whether they suspect Cozmanoff had been drinking before he plowed into the correctional officers last week. Meux was killed instantly. The three other officers were injured. One remained hospitalized as of Monday.
Considering the damage done to the SUV believed to have hit them, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said the three surviving officers are fortunate.
“They’re all lucky to be alive,” Buncich said.
The four correctional officers were on a training run around the perimeter of the government center.
Cozmanoff turned himself in Wednesday night, and the vehicle he was allegedly driving has been impounded.
Meux, a single mother and former U.S. Marine, had worked as a correctional officer for three years. Her funeral was held Monday.
Cozmanoff allegedly hit Meux and her colleagues along a stretch of 93rd Avenue near Main Street around 7 p.m. last Tuesday.
The collision was so severe that Meux was killed instantly.
The Savannah Beiley Hardiman Fund has been established to assist Meux’s baby daughter. Donations can be made at any Centier Bank, the sheriff said.
The three other officers — David Murchek, 26; Latasha Johnson, 34; and Delano Scaife, 22 — were seriously injured in the crash. Scaife was so badly injured, he was airlifted to a hospital in Indianapolis, where he underwent surgery Wednesday morning. Johnson suffered a broken arm and possible internal injuries and was released from Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point. Murchek was released from the same hospital on Wednesday.
Scaife was still hospitalized as of Monday.
About 24 hours after Cozmanoff allegedly fled the scene, he turned himself into police, accompanied by his attorney.
Buncich said Cozmanoff’s attorney, James Thiros, contacted him the day after the crash and said his client wished to surrender. And Cozmanoff’s estranged wife contacted Griffith police about a call she received from Cozmanoff, in which he made explicit statements admitting he struck the officers.
The SUV, which was registered to his father, has been processed by crime lab technicians. It was missing its passenger-side mirror and a lower fog lamp, and the passenger side window was shattered, with shards of glass scattered throughout the front of the SUV. Traces of blood and tissue were on the exterior of the passenger side, Buncich said.
Police obtained additional evidence at the Lakes of the Four Seasons home Cozmanoff shares with his father, including blue jeans, a baseball cap, sunglasses, a phone and a credit card with glass residue and fluid related to a vehicle crash.
“We are building a case, pulling phone records on where he was immediately before,” Buncich said.
Investigators say there is no apparent connection between the suspect and the officers.
Evidence at the scene showed the driver did not brake as he slammed into the group as they ran on the side of the road, according to the probable cause affidavit. The airbag control module revealed six seconds prior to impact the car was traveling at 77 mph and had a 100 percent throttle position. One second prior to impact, the car was at 65 mph and zero percent throttle.
Jason Cozmanoff was charged in 2009 with drunken driving and other offenses after a traffic stop by Lake County police. He pleaded guilty and successfully completed the Lake County Drug and Alcohol Offender Service program.
He has received other citations for having open alcohol in his car and was also charged in May 2008 with driving without a valid license.
(The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)