After the death of longtime West Noble coach and teacher Chuck Schlemmer on Aug. 21, readers on our social media pages began asking whether the man charged with hitting him with a truck would face murder charges.
The answer to that question is no, and for people who will want to see a big sentence handed down for this senseless tragedy, they may not want to hold their breath.
Police arrested and charged Ryan Gravit, 45, of LaGrange, in the incident. Court documents allege that Gravit was driving while intoxicated at more than three times the legal limit when he crossed the center line on River Road and hit Schlemmer head on. He was arrested shortly afterward when a firefighter spotted the damaged truck and followed him to a Ligonier apartment complex, where police took him into custody.
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty, but if he is eventually convicted of the charges he’s facing, the prison time he’d likely face wouldn’t be anywhere near a life sentence.
The two charges in the case are a Level 3 felony and a Level 4 felony. Penalties for a Level 3 felony are between three and 16 years in prison, while it’s two to 12 years for a Level 4.
Originally the charges were for leaving the scene of an accident causing a seriously bodily injury and operating while intoxicated causing serious injury with a prior conviction in the past five years. Since Schlemmer has since died, the charges could be amended to reflect causing death, although as the Noble County Prosecutor indicated, it wouldn’t change either count from a Level 3 and Level 4 since they were already enhanced charges.
Since the two charges are also related to a singular incident, in a normal sentencing those would be run concurrent — at the same time — meaning any sentence in the lesser count would be absorbed into the larger.
The suspect in this case has an extensive criminal history, making an aggravated sentence more likely. There could also be a possibility for something like a habitual offender enhancement, although that’s something prosecutors would need to explore. He also has other pending cases and recent convictions, meaning consecutive sentences and possible probation revocations could add more time.
But if a case like this were to play out as usual, the foreseeable maximum sentence would be 16 years.
That’s a far cry from penalties for more serious crimes like murder or manslaughter, but the Indiana Code simply doesn’t put the same penal burden on killing someone while driving drunk that it does for deaths by other means.
In a vanilla operating while intoxicated causing death, it’s only a Level 5 felony, with a sentencing range of only one to six years.
We’re sure many people will not see justice in however this case is resolved, and that’s not unusual in OWI death cases.
Unless Indiana lawmakers decide to increase the level of charges for these kinds of offenses, those who choose to drive drunk will spend much more time in the community than behind bars.