Burns Harbor Town Marshal Jerry Price is describing the death on Saturday of
a Shift Change Tap employee as the most “despicable” thing he’s ever seen,
after she was struck by a car in the bar’s parking lot and dragged over a
mile by a Portage man who Price said was trying to flee the Shift Change.
The victim was identified as Sheri Jania, 45, a long-time bartender at the
James Lohman III, 49, was being held at the Porter County Jail on
preliminary charges of reckless homicide and operating while intoxicated,
both Class C felonies punishable by a term of two to eight years.
Price gave this account of the incident to the Chesterton Tribune
today. At around 4 p.m. on Saturday, three people, including Lohman and a
14-year-old juvenile, entered the Shift Change, located at the northeast
corner of U.S. Highway 20 and Ind. 149. Jania—who was off duty at the
time—informed the three that juveniles were not permitted at the bar and
that they would have to leave.
The three did exit the Shift Change, Price said, but Jania subsequently
learned that the three had been involved in an “altercation” at a residence
to the east of Shift Change. At that point Jania contacted police, then
exited the bar herself and took a position behind Lohman’s vehicle—a 1997
Mercury Cougar two-door, copper in color, parked near the entrance and
facing west—in an effort to get the license plate number. Lohman,
however—with his two companions in the vehicle—began to back up and Jania
moved to the front of the car.
Lohman then “flat ran over her,” Price said. “There was no way he could not
have seen her.”
Lohman continued westbound on U.S. 20, dragging Jania, whose body was
finally dislodged near Salt Creek Road, 1.2 miles from the Shift Change,
Jania was pronounced dead at the scene of multiple blunt force trauma, said
Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris, who told the Tribune that she had
been caught beneath the underbody of the car. An autopsy was to be
scheduled, Harris said.
“This was the most despicable, heartless act I’ve ever seen,” said Price,
who knew Jania well. “I’ve seen a lot of bad things. But that’s the worst
thing I’ve ever seen one human do to another.”
Lohman, meanwhile, continued to flee but was observed by a Portage Police
officer in the area of U.S. 20 and Willowcreek Road, Portage Police said.
The officer attempted to execute a traffic stop at U.S. 20 and Douglas
Street but instead its driver turned northbound onto Old Porter Road, where
it finally came to a stop outside the Oaks Mobile Home Park, the PPD said.
The officer removed Lohman from the vehicle and held all three—including the
14-year-old boy—at gunpoint until backup units arrived, the PPD. The boy was
then himself removed from the vehicle but the third passenger refused to
open the passenger’s door, prompting Cpl. Ted Uzelac of the PPD to break the
window, the PPD said. Uzelac sustained a laceration to the arm requiring
stitches, Price said.
While officers were still at the scene on Old Porter Road, the PPD added, a
man identifying himself as the boy’s father was arrested on a charge of
public intoxication. The man advised that “his son had called him, telling
him to come to the area because the vehicle he was riding in was being
stopped by the police,” the PPD said.
“Sheri was a cool lady,” Price said. “She was always the peacemaker, the
sense of reason when the alcohol was flowing.”
“Folks have said to me ‘You never hear of anything like this happening in
little Burns Harbor,’” Price added. “I’ve said to them ‘You don’t hear of
this happening anywhere.’ It’s just sick, a despicable act.”
Price did express his gratitude to a host of other agencies for their
assistance on Saturday, including Sgt. John McMahon of the Porter Police
Department, who helped to preserve the scene at U.S. 20 and Salt Creek Road
and to take photographs; the Porter Fire Department, which was returning
from a dive call in Ogden Dunes and deployed its boat to block the westbound
lanes of U.S. 20 just east of the Shift Change; and Portage PD, which
mustered its crash reconstruction team.
Both Price and Assistant Town Marshal Mike Heckman responded immediately
but, as Price observed, “I didn’t have enough people to preserve the
multiple scenes. Everybody was on the same page all at once and we
appreciated the help.”