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Judge gives 8-year term for deadly OWI crash

October 28, 2018 GMT

A New Haven man tearfully apologized Friday before he was sentenced to eight years behind bars for his fourth drunken-driving offense : one that caused a deadly crash in June.

Jeremy Hoerger could get three more years tacked onto his sentence because of a prior drunken-driving case, and his license will be suspended 20 years after he’s released from prison.

Hoerger, 30, pleaded guilty this month to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death with a prior conviction. He also admitted to violating prior driving privileges. A reckless homicide charge was dismissed by prosecutors as part of a plea agreement.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced Hoerger to 14 years, with six years suspended and eight years behind bars. He’ll also serve four years probation, with the first year of probation to be spent on home detention.

Hoerger was also ordered to pay $16,918 in restitution for funeral expenses.

Hoerger was driving a 1996 Chevy Blazer about 10 p.m. June 29 in the 11000 block of Cuba Road when he failed to negotiate a curve. He struck a sign and crashed into a tree. The vehicle caught fire and Juliet Ann Taylor Schnebelt, a passenger, was killed.

Hoerger’s blood alcohol content was 0.27 percent : more than three times the legal limit.

Hoerger’s lawyer, William Lebrato, said the trip started as a camping trip to Pokagon State Park and ended in tragedy.

“A beautiful young woman died in a tragic, senseless accident caused by my client,” Lebrato said.

Her parents, Jason and Tina Linker, called Hoerger careless, selfish and irresponsible. “Jeremy’s criminal history has come back to haunt us,” Tina Linker told the judge.

During Friday’s 90-minute sentencing hearing, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred played a recording of one of Schnebelt’s two children crying because the child missed his mother. Tina Linker said she recorded the child on her phone because she wanted to show how Schnebelt’s death has affected her family.

“He asked me to get a shirt of hers so he could sleep with it,” she said.

Hoerger sobbed during the Linkers’ testimony and during his statement.

“It was 100 percent my fault,” Hoerger said. “I’m so terribly sorry from the bottom of my heart.”

Court records show Hoerger pleaded guilty last year to a felony count of operating while intoxicated with a prior conviction and was sentenced to about a year on home detention.

He also was sentenced to three years probation and was accepted into the county’s Restoration Court program, designed to help mentally ill offenders who repeatedly are arrested on drug- or alcohol-related offenses.

Hoerger violated probation with the fatal wreck in late June, and officials are pushing for him to spend three years in prison. A revocation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

He also pleaded guilty to separate operating-while-intoxicated charges in 2010 and 2012.

A judge signed an order in July 2017 allowing him to drive for 30 months for certain situations including doctors’ appointments and alcohol and substance abuse counseling.

“We begin our days with tears and we end our days with tears,” Tina Linker said. 

jchapman@jg.net