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Police deaths, injury inspire late legislation

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Although the deadline has passed to introduce new legislation, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak has called on legislators to find current bills that will allow amendments to statute in response to two separate car accidents involving police officers.

On Jan. 9, Mishawaka Police Cpl. James Szuba and his K-9 partner, Ricky, were killed after an allegedly drunk driver fled from police, ran a red light, and hit Szuba's car. Current law allows for someone to be charged only for causing the death of a law enforcement animal when he or she knowingly or intentionally injures the animal. When the public learned Dvorak couldn't charge the driver for Ricky's death, they contacted legislators, including Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, to update the OWI-causing-death statute, Indiana Code 9-30-5-5.

But the accident happened the day after the deadline to file bills in the legislature, so now Fry has to find a live bill to amend.

After hearing from constituents about the matter, Fry contacted Dvorak to discuss finding a bill to place the proposed amendment to the OWI-causing-death statute. The amendment as proposed by Dvorak would include any animal denoted as a law enforcement officer, such as horses used by police forces, which may have a greater probability of being hit and killed by a drunk driver than police dogs, Dvorak said. The two are also working on amending I.C. 35-44-3-3 to make it a Class A felony if someone resists law enforcement while operating a vehicle in a manner that causes the death of a law enforcement officer.

Approximately 10 days after the death of Szuba and Ricky, Dvorak said a South Bend officer was involved in an accident with an alleged drunk driver who was going the wrong way on a one-way street. The officer swerved to avoid hitting the other car but struck the back of it. He had some minor injuries and that driver fled. As a result of that accident, Dvorak found some gaps in the hit-and-run statute concerning battery of a person and suggested language to Fry to address those gaps.

Dvorak acknowledged it may be difficult to pass the amendment to the hit-and-run statute at this point in the short session because it's more complex than the other proposals. But he thinks the other two statutes have a better chance of making it through this session because they are simpler and precise changes to existing law.

"They aren't making broad policy change. There's very little language, yet at the same time, they have a profound impact if passed by law," he said.

Fry said he's been researching which bills to introduce these amendments, but there isn't a lot of legislation to amend because of the short session. The amendments may be offered to existing Senate bills up for hearing in House committees. Fry spent this week trying to get authors, co-authors, and sponsors lined up. There's a chance the amendments could get heard in committee next week.

Dvorak said if the amendments don't pass this session, he believes the issues will come up again in next year's long session.

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