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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 21, 2017 1:00 am

Guilty plea in deadly OWI crash

2 killed after van ran into tree

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Also

Murder trial dates set in 2 cases

Trial dates were set Wednesday for two men charged with murder in separate cases in Fort Wayne.

Victor Rivera is charged in the shooting death of Jacob Walerko on Thanksgiving Day at the Meijer gas station on Lima Road. He is charged with murder, felony murder and robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. His trial is set to begin May 1 in Allen Superior Court.

Mitchell Vanryn is charged with murder, aggravated battery and domestic battery causing death to a person younger than 14 in the death of 2-year-old Malakai Garrett in late November. The boy suffered injuries consistent with strikes from a closed fist, according to court documents. Vanryn's trial is set to begin May 15 in Allen Superior Court.

– Matthew Leblanc, The Journal Gazette

A Huntington man accused of killing two people and injuring nine others in a drunken driving crash in northeast Allen County in October pleaded guilty Wednesday.

Todd W. James, 52, was charged with two counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, causing the deaths of 21-year-old Harvey M. Schwartz and Louis E. Schwartz, 17.

He pleaded guilty to both counts in Allen Superior Court on Wednesday.

“Is it your belief that you were intoxicated that day?” Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck asked.

“Yes, sir,” James replied.

James was driving a Ford Econoline van with 13 passengers about 2 a.m. Oct. 1, according to court documents. He crossed the center line on Indiana 1/Leo Road, north of Stuckey Lane and east of Amstutz Road in Leo-Cedarville, and slammed into a tree.

Court documents say nine people under the age of 18 were injured.

“He was responsible for their care,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred said.

Blood drawn from James after the crash tested positive for alcohol and drugs, including painkillers and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, Mildred said. Court documents said James had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

James, who was wearing a back brace, showed no emotion Wednesday. He simply answered questions from the judge with, “No, sir” and “Yes, sir.”

Defense attorney Scott Harter declined to comment after the hearing.

A sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 19.

mleblanc@jg.net