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Two Killed in Collision with Police Car

February 07, 2002

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Two Killed in Collision with Police Car

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by Ken Kosky, Times

PORTAGE -- A man and his girlfriend were killed Thursday morning when their compact car collided with a police squad car that was responding to a disturbance call.

The crash, which occurred shortly before 3 a.m. at U.S. 6 and Swanson Road, left the officer with only minor injuries. The officer, Dennis Bailey, 29, was taken to St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, where he was treated for a shoulder injury and released.

The driver of the other car, a Ford Escort, was Timothy W. Munchenburg, 24, of Hobart. He was taken to Porter Memorial Hospital, but died of internal chest injuries. His passenger, Toni Paxson, 23, of Portage, was airlifted to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., but she also died of massive internal injuries.

Police said they did not know if Munchenburg and Paxson were wearing their seat belts.The fatal accident has shocked the families of both victims, said Munchenburg's sister, Jennifer. She said Munchenburg, an employee of U.S. Steel, and Paxson, an intensive care nurse at Portage Community Hospital, had been dating for about six years. She said they enjoyed hanging out at the house and activities like shopping or going to the beach and riding Jet skis in the summer.

The crash that killed the couple occurred while they were eastbound on U.S. 6 and the officer was westbound on U.S. 6, heading to a report of a man causing a disturbance and trying to get into a home in the 1300 block of Camelot Manor.

The suspect in the disturbance was later arrested by another officer.Bailey was in a fully marked squad car, but did not have his emergency lights or siren activated while en route to the call. While the officer was westbound, Munchenburg turned in front of him to go from eastbound U.S. 6 onto northbound Swanson Road, according to Indiana State Police.

Both drivers had the green light, but Munchenburg should have yielded to the officer before turning, police said. In addition, tests showed Munchenburg's blood alcohol level was over legal limit, police said."We believe the primary factor is him (Munchenburg) failing to yield," said Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas."But a contributing factor is going to be alcohol , and we believe speed may be a factor with the officer.

"The intersection was closed for several hours while officers took measurements and arranged for the cars to be removed. Since a Portage officer was involved in the crash, state police are investigating. Wojas said the accident reconstruction may take several weeks or months to complete.

Cpl. John Ryan, Portage police spokesman, said the officer involved in the crash will be required to meet with a counselor, as is required by department policy. He will also be given time off if he requests it. Ryan added that the officer, a two-year veteran, had no prior crashes.

He said officers are supposed to activate their lights and sirens when responding to an emergency, but officers have discretion about what constitutes an emergency.

Funeral arrangements for Munchenburg are pending at Rees Funeral Home in Hobart. Paxson's family said her funeral arrangements are also pending.Porter County Coroner Roger Kleist said Thursday's crash was the first fatal accident in Porter County in 2002.Ken Kosky can be reached at kkosky@howpubs.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 354.

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