Johnson County Prosecutor Lance Hamner rushed to his downtown Franklin office on Saturday to save computers and files from floodwater.
At first, water was about an inch high. Within an hour, the floodwater had creeped higher – he was being shocked while trying to salvage computers. The water suddenly reached 4 feet, making the prosecutor’s office look more like an aquarium than an office. Rushing floodwater rose even higher, crushing doors shut, trapping him inside so that he couldn’t even escape through the ceiling.
“By this point, I realized I needed to get out of there but there was no way out. Then I heard an explosion. The walls had collapsed,” Hamner wrote in an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer, noting that he looked out a window at one point and saw National Guardsmen performing rescues. He saw one of his deputy prosecutors being rescued.
“A baseball bat that I had used as a demonstrative exhibit in an attempted murder trial floated by,” Hamner wrote. “I slipped it to the guardsmen who used it to pound out a window and I climbed out through that.”
Now, the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office is destroyed and Hamner is working to find a temporary setup as the local legal community pushes forward.
Hamner’s story is just one of several resulting from the storms Saturday that dropped up to 11 inches of rain on parts of the state, closing roads and flooding homes and businesses. The governor requested emergency federal aid late Sunday and overnight the president granted that request, declaring 29 counties disaster areas.
The legal community in Johnson County is most impacted by flooding at the prosecutor’s and Court Appointed Special Advocates/Guardian Ad Litem offices. Both are destroyed, locals said. Water mixed with sewage reached about six feet inside the building, located below ground level just west of the historic county courthouse.
Multiple county offices and criminal court files kept in the prosecutor’s office are drenched, as well as the Franklin City Court that is inside the police department south of the county square. City court officials couldn’t be reached this morning, but Johnson Circuit Judge Mark Loyd said the local city court is likely closed for at least a few days because of damage.
Judge Loyd said his court is allowing prosecutors to use its computer system to pull up records and plea agreements so that court proceedings can go on, though some continuances are likely.
Court officials in other counties contacted this morning say that their courts are open and operating in many of these jurisdictions, including those in hard-hit areas of Bartholomew, Jackson, Morgan, and Vigo counties. Some local law offices were damaged, but many in those communities also escaped widespread destruction.
In Columbus, attorney Rich Eynon said his office on the outskirts of town wasn’t impacted by the flooding that hit other areas and some downtown law offices more significantly. Many in the downtown area are just blocks from the river, and fortunately the floodwater didn’t go toward the county courthouse, he said. Bartholomew County court officials reported they were open today.
“From the legal perspective, it could have been worse because it went everywhere so indiscriminately,” he said.
By late morning, no county courts had requested any special assistance for flooding through a disaster action plan rule that went into effect Jan. 1, according to David Remondini, chief deputy director of the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration.