Appeal denied over fatal crash

Tron Gorbonosenko

INDIANAPOLIS — A former La Porte County paramedic sentenced in December to 11 years in prison for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed two people has lost his appeal, according to a court order filed Tuesday.

Tron Gorbonosenko was convicted by a jury in La Porte Superior Court 1 in November 2018 of two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death, and two counts of reckless homicide, all Level 5 felonies. He was acquitted of two Level 4 felony OWI counts, each of which stipulated that his blood alcohol content was at least 0.15 percent at the time of the crash.

At sentencing, Judge Michael Bergerson chose to merge the OWI and reckless homicide convictions to avoid double jeopardy, but opted to impose consecutive sentences of 5.5 years for each of the reckless homicide charges.

On appeal, Gorbonosenko asserted that his convictions should be overturned because they were “unsupported by sufficient evidence,” the appellate order states.

The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed.

In the discussion portion of its decision, the appellate court mentioned evidence presented in court from two witnesses who suspected Gorbonosenko’s intoxication about 90 minutes before the crash, and the same testimony from a police officer who responded to the crash and a medical professional who transported Gorbonosenko to the hospital via helicopter.

All four testified they could smell alcohol emanating from Gorbonosenko.

And a forensic toxicologist testified that Gorbonosenko’s blood draw from three hours after the crash indicated his BAC at the time of the crash would have been between 0.152 and 0.236 percent.

“From this evidence, a reasonable factfinder could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Gorbonosenko was driving his vehicle while intoxicated,” the appellate court writes. “Gorbonosenko’s argument is merely a request to reweigh the evidence and judge witness credibility, which we must decline. Accordingly, we affirm Gorbonosenko’s convictions for reckless homicide.”

Also in his appeal, Gorbonosenko contended that Bergerson abused his discretion in determining the sentence by imposing one that is inappropriate or improper.

But the Court of Appeals disagreed again.

Noting that Gorbonosenko charged the trial court with failing to find any mitigating factors in the case, the appellate court said it was not obligated to do so, and that such a burden would have fallen to the defense to prove based on support by the record.

Gorbonosenko also challenged all four aggravating factors listed by Bergerson: criminal history, employment by La Porte County as a paramedic, lack of remorse, and that the advisory sentence would depreciate the seriousness of the crime.

One by one, the Court of Appeals knocks down his arguments, noting that the trial court was within its discretion to declare each.

“We find no deficiencies in the trial court’s sentencing statement,” the appellate court writes. “The trial court explained that it found no mitigating factors, identified four aggravating factors, and explained why it found those four factors to be aggravating. … Here, the four aggravating factors are sufficient to support both enhanced and consecutive sentences.”

According to witness testimony provided during Gorbonosenko’s trial, the off-duty paramedic showed signs of driving impairment when he showed up to his children’s performance at a martial arts school in downtown La Porte on Oct. 6, 2017. Two witnesses testified they could smell alcohol coming from Gorbonosenko, and one of them called 911 because of it.

However, the three La Porte Police officers who responded allowed Gorbonosenko to remain at the scene, and did not document their encounter with him, which lasted less than 13 minutes and included no field sobriety or breathalyzer tests.

Approximately an hour later, Gorbonosenko was involved in the fatal crash near the intersection of Bootjack Road and U.S. 20 in rural La Porte County.

The power train control module from Gorbonosenko’s Ford Mustang showed he was traveling between 55 and 61 mph at the time of the crash, and that had not activated his brakes at any point during the 25 seconds prior to it.

A La Porte County Sheriff’s deputy testified Gorbonosenko had been driving on Bootjack Road, and blew the stop sign at 20 before merging, causing him to hit the minivan driven by Donald and Angela Kaczmarek “headlamp to headlamp.”

The Kaczmareks were pronounced dead at the scene.

One of the responding officers told the jury he could smell alcohol on Gorbonosenko at the crash site; and that two bottles of whiskey were found inside the Mustang – an empty one on the passenger-side floor and a partially empty one between the driver’s seat and center console.

A flight nurse who transported Gorbonosenko to the hospital and another sheriff’s deputy who attended the hospital also testified regarding the smell of alcohol coming from his person.

Additionally, the toxicologist testified lorazepam was present in Gorbonosenko’s blood draw; and she noted its tendency to amplify alcohol intoxication.

After his failed appeal, Gorbonosenko remains in lockup at the Correctional Industrial Facility, a medium-security prison in Pendleton, Indiana.

According to the Indiana Department of Correction, his earliest possible release date will be Nov. 30, 2026.

To view the Court of Appeals’ decision, visit publicaccess.courts.in.gov/Appellate/Document?id=66177a90-4c77-484c-a288-9931ddd7b3f2.

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