The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 15, 2016 4:22 am

State rep says he got no favors after crash

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A state representative’s car wreck in March is still causing him headaches – though not from the jarring impact.

The crash brought to light a bureaucratic tangle and a suspended license that Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, didn’t even know about.

A prosecutor stepped in and dismissed the driving-while-suspended ticket and the case ended last week with Ober pleading no contest to operating a motor vehicle with a registration number belonging to a different vehicle, also an infraction.

A review of Ober’s driving record and court documents also shows the man behind a law giving tickets to people dawdling in the left lane likes to speed. A lot.

"I’ve learned my lesson," he said. "It’s humbling and embarrassing. State reps are people too."

Ober said Noble County Prosecutor Eric Blackman didn’t give him any special treatment in the dismissal – which occurred after Ober worked with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the sheriff’s department – to correct the mistake and remove it from his record.

"I know Dave. He’s a good guy. He helped me out with my campaign," Blackman said. "I like him, but I’m not going to do anything illegal or unethical for him."

It all started March 16 in Rome City when Ober’s gray Jeep was struck by a Ford pickup. Ober even tweeted about it that day, showing the damage on his driver’s side door. Both drivers went to the hospital, according to the accident report, but Ober checked out fine.

Rome City Marshal James Sheffield called Ober a few days later to tell him he was citing the other driver for the crash. But Sheffield also ticketed Ober for driving while suspended and false registration/plate of a different vehicle.

Blackman said Sheffield called him to give him a heads-up on the citations, which he said was appropriate in case there was a conflict and Blackman needed to find a special prosecutor to handle it.

Ober said the suspension was all confusion related to a December 2015 one-car crash in which Ober went off the road. He was driving his 2014 Jeep at the time but the crash report misstated it as a 2016 Jeep. So when his insurance company sent proof of insurance to the BMV, the vehicles didn’t match. He received a letter from the BMV asking for a second submission, which his insurance company provided. Ober did not know his license had been suspended until Sheffield mentioned it to him.

The tickets were filed electronically through the state and it takes about a week before they arrive in the prosecutor’s office.

By that time, Blackman said Ober had gotten the sheriff’s department to issue a new crash report on the 2015 crash indicating the proper model year of his Jeep. And the BMV removed the suspension from his record once the insurance information matched.

"I checked the driving record that morning and there was no suspension referenced on the driving records," Blackman said. "There were no special favors."

Blackman has given small amounts – a few hundred dollars – to Ober’s campaign and vice versa.

"I don’t think anything was done wrong," Ober said. "I guess it’s a little different because I did support him and I have his cellphone number. I didn’t ask him to do anything untoward. He didn’t tell me he was dismissing it."

Blackman said it was a close call on whether a special prosecutor was needed, but he chose not to since it was a civil infraction.

As for the second charge, Ober fesses up.

"It was my mess up," he said. "I didn’t do what I was supposed to in the right time frame. So I paid the ($133) ticket."

He said his state representative license plate – House plate 36 – was put on his new vehicle when he bought it last year and Ober simply didn’t go to the BMV to coordinate the plate and registration.

The incident was complicated because the crash report references a vehicle owned by a state senator – Mark Messmer – who has a similar Senate plate number and who also used to be a House member. And Sheffield said information also came up on a former Indiana House member, Luke Messer, now a congressman.

"It was confusing," Ober said, noting neither official had anything to do with the incident.

Ober also sheepishly admits he likes to speed. He has had four speeding tickets since 2005. The first was right after he got his license and the others came in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The first one he was going 72 mph in a 45 zone when he passed a "joker" going too slow, Ober said.

Perhaps that was the impetus behind a state law he offered that now lets police ticket drivers holding up traffic in the left lane of a highway.

"I still drive a little quick but not 72 in a 45," Ober said.

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