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Court reduces prison sentence for man who drove into construction worker

Robert Shannon

Robert Shannon

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Updated: January 10, 2012 8:24AM

The Indiana Court of Appeals has cut a year off the sentence of a Hammond man who pleaded guilty to driving through barriers and hitting and killing construction worker Christopher Jenkins on Interstate 80/94.

The court ruled Thursday in a 2-1 opinion that the trial judge was too harsh in sentencing Robert Shannon to seven years in prison, just one year shy of the maximum for the charge of reckless driving in a work zone causing a death.

Shannon pleaded guilty to the charge in March, a year after the incident in which he was driving on I-80/94 westbound in eastern Lake County late at night.

All the lanes except the far right lane were closed to traffic while Jenkins and other construction workers were in the far left lane. Shannon drove straight through orange barrels and past other barriers before his car struck Jenkins.

According to witnesses, Shannon started to drive off before other construction workers stopped him, and then fled the scene on foot. He was arrested a few days later on charges that included reckless homicide.

According to the appeals court, sentencing guidelines called for Shannon to get four years in prison, but the trial judge increased the sentence because of the extraordinary circumstances of the case.

But Judges Mark Bailey and Paul Mathias disagreed, saying that nothing in the facts of the case warranted such a harsh sentence.

“Though the trial court determined that Shannon’s recklessness was ‘so extreme’ and Jenkins’ death ‘so heinous as to shock the sense,’ we find nothing in the written stipulation of facts that makes the nature of Shannon’s offense particularly egregious with respect to the charged offense,” Bailey wrote in the opinion.

The two judges also credited Shannon with accepting responsibility for the crime, noting that according to testimony he now carries a picture of Jenkins with him.

They ruled that Shannon’s sentence should be cut to six years, with two years served as probation.

Judge Terry Crone disagreed, claiming the circumstances of the case warranted the seven-year sentence. Crone noted that Jenkins was working as far away from traffic as he could be when Shannon struck him, and gave weight to Shannon’s previous reckless driving conviction in 2004.

“Apparently, he learned nothing from his encounter with the criminal justice system and repeated his reckless behavior in a construction zone, with tragic consequences for Christopher Jenkins and his loved ones,” Crone wrote in his dissenting opinion.

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