Family still grieves crash victims
MICHIGAN CITY – Dec. 19 would’ve been Angela Kaczmarek’s 51st birthday, but her family had to gather at her gravesite in Swan Lake Cemetery to remember her.
Kaczmarek and her husband, Donald, owned Packman’s Family Pizzeria in La Porte. They were on their way back from a delivery in New Carlisle when their Honda Odyssey was struck head-on by a Ford Mustang that had blown the stop sign on Bootjack Road and entered their lane of travel on U.S. 20 on Oct. 6, 2017.
The driver of the Mustang, off-duty paramedic Tron Gorbonosenko, had a 0.12 percent blood alcohol content in a blood draw taken three hours after the crash, from which he was airlifted to a South Bend hospital in critical condition.
The Kaczmareks were taken from the scene in body bags.
“The grandchildren lost their grandparents, and they were really close with them,” said Linda Hopkins, Angela’s mother, in a telephone interview Sunday. “The boys talked to them every day. And they didn’t even get to say goodbye.
“As one of their parents, they were the two where all you had to do was pick up the phone and they would be there to help, whether it was for a doctor appointment, a trip to the store,” she said.
“But they’re gone now, and we all miss them very deeply.”
Katherine Kaczmarek, Don and Angie’s daughter-in-law, said, “Our family suffers every day. Our children suffer every day. Have you ever met kids who don’t want to celebrate their birthdays or Christmas? Ours do not.
“My husband can’t function in life; he is being treated for everything. Most in the family are on depression medication. Neither of their sons are working because of the emotional effects of their deaths, the case and the outcome with the police officers.”
In January, the family learned that less than 90 minutes prior to the fatal crash, three La Porte city police officers had responded to a 911 call in which a witness reported he suspected Gorbonosenko of drunk driving outside a martial arts school in downtown La Porte.
No breathalyzer or field sobriety tests were conducted, and he was allowed to drive away from the scene. On his way home, he struck the Kaczmareks, killing them on impact.
“If it wasn’t for these three officers, I feel – and the judge felt – that my kids would be alive today,” Hopkins said. “Tron wouldn’t still be in jail; he would be at home with his family also. The police didn’t do their jobs.”
Katherine said, “We are extremely upset over the outcome with Tron. We do appreciate the judge and understand he did what he could do with the laws; but for two people’s deaths, 11 years is a joke. The officers and City of La Porte should be held accountable for what they let happen and the cover-up they did allow.”
Hopkins said she’s “been getting the runaround” as she attempts to gain closure. She said prosecutors encouraged her to plead her case to the Indiana State Police, but ISP told her to take her issue back to the local police and prosecutor.
The family filed a tort claim in February alleging the Kaczmareks’ estate was owed $700,000 in damages.
Katherine confirmed the claim was resolved in a settlement, but said she cannot disclose the details.
Among the nine potentially culpable people and entities named in the tort claim notice were La Porte Mayor Mark Krentz, La Porte city attorney Nick Otis, La Porte County attorney Doug Biege, the La Porte City Council and La Porte County Board of Commissioners.