Chesterton Tribune


Lohman admits to dragging Sheri Jania to her death under car

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A Portage man has admitted being in control of the car which dragged Shift Change bartender Sheri Jania to her death in 2011.

On Monday, James Lohman III, 50, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, a Class B felony punishable by a term of six to 20 years; and operating while intoxicated-causing death, a Class C felony punishable by a term of two to eight years.

Under the plead-and-argue arrangement, Lohman could face a maximum sentence of 28 years, if Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford were to order him to serve the term for each count consecutively.

Two other counts against Lohman—reckless homicide, also a Class C felony, and criminal recklessness with a vehicle, a Class A misdemeanor—would be dismissed.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 6.

Lohman remains in custody at the Porter County Jail. Bond has been set at $250,000.

According to Burns Harbor Police, around 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, three people—including Lohman and a 14-year-old boy—entered the Shift Change, located at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 20 and Ind. 149. Long-time bartender Jania—who was off duty at the time—informed the three that juveniles were not permitted in the bar and they would have to leave.

The three did exit the Shift Change, BHPD said, but Jania subsequently learned that the three had been involved in an “altercation” at a residence near the bar. She contacted police, then exited the Shift Change herself, and took a position near Lohman’s 1997 Mercury Cougar in an effort to get the plate number, BHPD said. At that point Lohman, with his two companions in the vehicle, began to back up and Jania moved in front of the Cougar, BHPD said.

Then, as former Burns Harbor town marshal Jerry Price told the Chesterton Tribune at the time, Lohman “flat ran over her.”

The “car stopped for about 10 to 15 seconds and someone opened the door,” BHPD said, but as “everyone was screaming that Jania was under the car,” the driver “exited the parking lot with the vehicle floored with spinning tires.”

The car left “blood smears on the ground,” BHPD said.

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, BHPD said.

Lohman, meanwhile, continued to flee was but was taken into custody near the Oaks Mobile Home Park by Portage Police.

Lohman, for his part, initially told investigators that his “front-seat passenger put his leg over to the driver’s side and placed his foot over Lohman’s foot and pushed on the gas pedal, (causing) him to run over the girl,” BHPD said. Lohman added that he “would sign papers” to that effect but would “need protection from the passenger, who he advised was a high-ranking gang member.”

Lohman subsequently registered a blood alcohol content of .106 percent on a portable breath test but refused to submit to a certified chemical test, BHPD said.

At the time Marshal Price called the incident “the most despicable, heartless act I’ve ever seen.” And he remembered Jania as the “peacemaker, the sense of reason when the alcohol was flowing.”

In the opinion of Dr. Joseph Prahlow, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, Jania did not die immediately after being struck by the car and was not rendered immediately unconscious by the initial impact, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris told the Tribune after the autopsy.

“I was honestly hoping I could tell you that (Jania) was unconscious” after being hit by the car, Harris said at the time. “But I can’t. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It was a slow death. It was pretty much like torture.”

The driver, Harris also said at the time, “absolutely had to know” that Jania had been caught under the car’s undercarriage and was being dragged beneath it.



Posted 3/5/2013