Reckless Homicide Charge Brought Against Utica, Indiana Emergency Medical Technician in Fatal Crash

Courtesy The Jeffersonville Evening News

UTICA, Ind. (Aug 8) -- An emergency medical technician with the Utica Volunteer Fire Department has been charged with a felony count of reckless homicide in connection with a high-speed crash that caused the death of a Clark County woman on Aug. 8.

C.E. Branham/The Jeffersonville Evening News
A memorial stands at the site where Julia Vissing was killed in an automobile accident August 8.

A criminal information report filed today in Clark Superior Court 3 charges Michael J. Hutchins with causing the death of Julia K. Vissing as the result of recklessly operating the emergency vehicle he was driving while en route to a report of a houseboat sinking on the Ohio River.

The charging information was prepared by Clark County Sheriff's Det. John Shelton and filed by Prosecutor Steve Stewart, who said Hutchins' actions on the emergency run exceeded what was prudent and safe, resulting in the woman's death.

Hutchins was eastbound on Utica Pike just outside the city limits of Jeffersonville on Aug. 8 and was passing a line of traffic at a speed above the posted limit when a car driven by Vissing attempted to make a left hand turn into the driveway of her residence and was struck broadside about 4:45 p.m. The vehicles traveled 158 feet after the impact, with the front of the F250 pickup driven by Hutchins still embedded in the driver's side of the Dodge Intrepid driven by Vissing.

She sustained massive chest and head injuries and was transported from the scene to University of Louisville Hospital, where she died.

Witnesses cited in the probable cause affidavit filed by Shelton say Hutchins was traveling nearly 65 miles per hour and accelerating prior to the crash. An accident investigator hired by the Vissing family put the speed at the point of impact at 65 miles per hour. Kenneth R. Agent, a Transportation Research Engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said Hutchins' speed would have been higher prior to his braking before impact.

The Utica Fire Department truck he was driving was equipped with antilock brakes, so there were no skid marks to show Hutchins' efforts to stop, investigators said.

Stewart said his investigation showed Hutchins and his wife Janette had been in Louisville earlier that day because Mrs. Hutchins' mother was undergoing surgery. The two left Suburban Hospital in Louisville and drove to the Falls of the Ohio, where the two planned to spend some time until Mrs. Hutchins had to be at class at Indiana University Southeast at 5:45 p.m.

While at the fossil beds, Hutchins heard a dispatch on his truck's radio which was scanning local emergency radio frequencies saying that Oldham County, Ky. , officials had received a report of a boat capsizing with people in the water. The couple continued to walk along the fossil beds for about 15 minutes, but his pager went off again.

Hutchins said he returned to his truck and switched to the Utica fire frequency but could no longer get traffic from Oldham County. He was notified that the Utica Volunteer Fire Department was being called to respond as mutual aid in connection with the boat incident, and was being asked to put the department's rescue boat in the water. A transmission from Utica Fire Chief Jamey Noel asked Hutchins to meet him at Admiral's Anchor, where the department's rescue boat is kept.

The charging information notes that ironically, Oldham County, had reached the scene and cancelled all responding emergency personnel, saying the boat had beached itself on the shore and was stable.

That call came minutes before the fatal crash, according to the court documents filed today. Hutchins said he never received word the call had been canceled, and was operating on the last instructions he received from Chief Noel.

Another issue in the charging affidavit is whether Hutchins was responding with reasonable caution to the call. Witnesses told police his truck failed to stop or even slow down for stop signs, and was accelerating as it approached a line of cars which it was passing on a double yellow line at the time of impact.

Hutchins said he was traveling no more than 20 miles per hour above the posted speed limit when the accident occurred, and that the Vissing vehicle pulled from a line of stopped traffic around one or more vehicles to turn into the driveway when the crash occurred.

Lt. Harold Goodlett of the Sheriff's Department was called in to investigate the crash site. Goodlett estimated the speed at the point of impact to be between 51 and 63 miles per hour and suggested calling in an expert to determine the speed prior to impact since there were no skid marks.

The information cites a number of eyewitnesses who put the speed of the truck at between 50 and 65 miles per hour. William R. Crowe was in the rear of the line of stopped traffic near the crash site and put the speed of the truck at between 60 and 65 miles per hour.

A westbound motorist on Utica Pike, Velvet Lebo, said she saw the truck hit the car three times as the vehicles skidded off the roadway and came to rest. She estimated the truck's speed at 50 to 60 miles per hour, the affidavit says.

Brenda Ford, another westbound motorist, reported that Hutchins was "erratically passing several cars on a double yellow line." She said she pulled into the eastbound lane behind the Vissing car "within seconds" of Vissing's car being struck by Hutchins. She said she saw the lights and heard Hutchins' siren. She estimated his speed at around 50 or 60 miles per hour prior to the crash.

Brian Marcum, another witness, also said Hutchins passed his vehicle at between 50 and 60 miles per hour, and said he did not hear a siren or see the lights until the truck was right on top of him. The truck had a red light bar inside on the dash and had "wig-wag" headlights, but the crash occurred in daylight when the lights are least visible.

Eyewitness Jeffrey Griffin said he was eastbound on Utica Pike and saw the Hutchins truck approach from behind. He said as Hutchins rounded a slight hill crest, he "nailed it," saying the EMT "accelerated and took off," prior to the crash. Eldridge thought the truck was traveling 65 miles per hour prior to the crash.

A motorist getting gas at a service station at Market and Graham Streets reported seeing the silver truck, "reared up" and "flying" as it "never touched its brakes when it went through the stop sign at Graham Street (and Market Street.) Long estimated the truck to be traveling at 65-70 miles per hour, although the witness said the vehicle may have been moving even faster than that.

Stewart subpoenaed records from Clark County Central Alarm regarding the incident and learned that Utica units had been called to assist Oldham County with a "boat sinking in the river" at 4:27 p.m. The alarm was repeated at 4:28 p.m. and followed by a request that Utica put its boat in the water at 4:36 p.m.

At 4:47 p.m., six minutes after the fatal crash, Central Alarm transmitted a message for Utica Volunteer firefighters to cancel their run, saying that the boat had been beached, and that no lives were in jeopardy. Oldham County reported a radio transmission saying that responding units could cancel their run at 4:37 p.m., some four minutes before the fatal crash in Clark County. Hutchins reported being within one minute of Admiral's Anchor prior to the fatal crash.

Still, the state asserts Hutchins failed to exercise reasonable care and control over his vehicle while responding to the incident and created a hazard to public safety that resulted in Vissing's death.

Hutchins was working for both the Utica and New Washington Volunteer Fire Departments at the time of the crash. He had been employed by Utica since June 5, receiving only nominal compensation. He was driving the truck as a reward because he had worked five eight-hour shifts in the last month.

Hutchins has worked with Jackson County EMS where he made as many as 150 EMS runs as an ambulance driver. He also previously worked for Yellow Ambulance until March of 2002, where he made around 300 ambulance runs. He has been a volunteer firefighter since the age of 15, serving with the Monroe Township Fire Department until March of this year.

Subpoenaed records of his most recent employment with Jackson County EMS reflect that Hutchins was an "excellent employee, but that a complaint of fast driving had been received."

If convicted, Hutchins could face up to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the C felony statute.