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Differing takes on Gorbonosenko intoxication

November 16, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – Three La Porte City Police officers testified Wednesday that Tron Gorbonosenko showed no signs of impairment outside a La Porte martial arts school last fall, about 90 minutes before his Ford Mustang Saleen crashed into a minivan on U.S. 20, killing two La Porte business owners.

However, other parents at the martial arts school, where Gorbonosenko’s sons take lessons, told a different story during the jury trial in La Porte Superior Court 1.

Robin Burian said he and a friend watched as Gorbonosenko took a wide turn and wound up in the grass on the wrong side of the street prior to making several attempts to park his Mustang.

He said they joked about how the driver must not know how to drive a stick shift, and continued watching as Gorbonosenko hit a parked car and a utility pole while attempting to park in the lot outside.

Burian said he told his friend, “If he’s impaired, he could hurt somebody. We need to do something about this.”

And Burian exited his own vehicle to get a better look at the Mustang and the car Gorbonosenko reportedly hit.

He testified he noticed some paint transfer on the Mustang’s bumper and the other car’s rear quarter panel, and saw that the Mustang continued to rest against the pole, despite Gorbonosenko having exited to go inside the school.

Burian said he walked up to Gorbonosenko to get a better feel for whether he was intoxicated. He told the court Gorbonosenko was slightly swaying and smelled of alcohol; so, he returned to his vehicle where he called 911.

La Porte City Police officers Patrick Sightes, Daniel Reed and Robert Hagler responded within minutes.

They made contact with the 911 caller and the driver of the car Gorbonosenko reportedly hit prior to calling Gorbonosenko outside the school to talk. After no more than seven minutes, Gorbonosenko was allowed to re-enter the school with his wife, and police left the scene.

No breathalyzer or field sobriety tests were conducted and no report of the incident was documented by the officers.

“There was nothing to document,” Sightes told the court Wednesday. “If it was substantiated that he was intoxicated, then it would have been.”

Sightes, Reed and Hagler each told the court they did not smell alcohol coming from Gorbonosenko and did not observe any alcoholic beverage containers in plain sight in Gorbonosenko’s car, so they had no reason to test him. And without a failed test or more than $1,000 worth of property damage, they felt a report was unnecessary.

When asked if they were familiar with Gorbonosenko before the call, each officer said he wasn’t.

However, Reed said Gorbonosenko, an off-duty paramedic at the time, told him outside the martial arts school that he had provided medical care to Reed’s father when his father fainted at church in the past.

But in direct conflict with the officers’ testimony, a woman who had been sitting next to Gorbonosenko inside the school told the court she smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from Gorbonosenko.

“I could tell he smelled like liquor,” Bethany McCoy told the jury. “It was very obvious from where I was sitting.”

Additionally, McCoy said, Gorbonosenko knocked a large trophy into a window by bumping it as he was attempting to take a seat on the floor.

She said the martial arts testing that had attracted so many people to the school that night ended around 7 p.m.

It was 7:38 p.m. when 911 received a second call notifying them that Gorbonosenko had been involved in an incident on U.S. 20 near Bootjack Road, a fatal crash that claimed the lives of Donald and Angela Kaczmarek, owners of Packman’s Family Pizzeria in La Porte.

Two La Porte County Sheriff’s deputies who testified Thursday said they smelled the distinct odor of alcohol coming from Gorbonosenko’s person after the crash.

And photos taken at the scene show two whiskey bottles in his mangled vehicle – an empty but capped bottle on the passenger-side floorboard and a partially empty one wedged between the passenger seat and center console.

The Kaczmareks were taken from the scene by the La Porte County Coroner’s office; and Gorbonosenko was airlifted to South Bend Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

Deputy Jon Samuelson said Gorbonosenko’s entire room in the emergency department smelled of alcohol, and that the smell got stronger the closer he came to Gorbonosenko’s hospital bed.

He said Gorbonosenko told him he hadn’t been drinking and consented to a blood draw.

However, the deputy said he felt Gorbonosenko appeared to be “out of it;” so Samuelson requested a search warrant for a blood draw to be safe.

By the time one was conducted, it had been approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes since the crash.

Toxicology results weren’t discussed in detail in court. However, the judge said during jury instructions Wednesday that the result was a 0.174 percent blood alcohol content; and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule said in his opening statement that lorazepam also was present in Gorbonosenko’s blood.

Defense attorney Larry Rogers questioned the reliability of the blood draw, and asked the deputies questions in line with his concern Thursday.

Samuelson explained the reasons for the delay in the initial test at the hospital – Gorbonosenko’s condition, hospital staff needing to tend to an emergency with a different patient, the hospital requiring a testing kit that had to be transported from the South Bend Police Department, and more.

Detective Michael Raymer of the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department described the timetable: Gorbonosenko’s blood was drawn more than three hours after the crash on Oct. 6, 2017, and placed in an evidence refrigerator at the department shortly thereafter.

Raymer reportedly saw the blood in the fridge when he returned to work on Oct. 10, and sent it for processing at the Indiana Toxicology Department on Oct. 23.

Rogers said during his opening statement that the blood would have fermented during that time, causing an alcohol content prior to processing.

However, Raymer said Thursday that the blood was “fine” because it remained refrigerated before being mailed.

Testimony will resume in the case at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

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