Elkhart judge rejects fatal crash plea, surprising victim’s parents

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A northern Indiana judge has rejected a man’s plea agreement in a fatal 2015 car crash, frustrating the victim’s parents, who say they want the long-running case behind them.

Justin Gladieux, 23, was driving a car in May 2015 when it collided with a truck near the Elkhart County town of New Paris, killing his passenger and friend, Nathaniel McConnell, 24, of Etna Green.

Gladieux had pleaded guilty in January to one felony count of causing death while operating a vehicle with a marijuana metabolite in his blood.

But Elkhart Circuit Judge Michael Christofeno, who had taken Gladieux’s plea deal under advisement without making a ruling, rejected it Thursday, shocking McConnell’s parents, The Goshen News reported.

“I’ve thought about this long and hard,” Christofeno told Gladieux. “I cannot in good conscience accept your plea bargain agreement.” The judge then scheduled Gladieux to stand trial Aug. 10 in the fatal crash.

Elkhart County deputy prosecuting attorney Katelyn Doyle said at January’s plea hearing that Gladieux’s plea deal was in the state’s best interest. Under his plea, Gladieux would have faced no more than a 3-year sentence and placement in a community corrections program.

The judge’s decision upset McConnell’s parents, who supported the plea agreement and wanted to spare Gladieux from a trial, saying he’s not a criminal and the crash was an accident. The case has been postponed about 20 times since Gladieux was charged in February 2016.

“It’s just time for it to end,” Mary McConnell, McConnell’s mother, said after Thursday’s hearing. “There’s no reason to keep pulling him through the loops. We just want a peaceable release. … We don’t understand why they won’t accept the terms and get on with it.”

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