Corrections officers weren't targeted, defense lawyer says

2012-03-12T14:15:00Z 2013-12-10T18:13:22Z Corrections officers weren't targeted, defense lawyer saysBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | An attorney for a region man charged in the hit-and-run death of a Lake County Jail guard said his client never intended to hurt anyone.

"The defendant's family extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Britney Meux and the other corrections officers injured," Merrillville lawyer James Thiros said of the crash, which also injured three other jail officers.

"This was a horrible tragedy. The defendant wants everyone to know this was not an intentional act," Thiros said, referring to Jason Cozmanoff, 42, of Lakes of the Four Seasons.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said Friday his department will pursue more serious charges once more evidence from the continuing investigation is available. Buncich has left open the question about whether the death was an accident or something more sinister.

Cozmanoff appeared early Monday before Criminal Court Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan on charges of leaving the scene of Tuesday night's accident.

Cozmanoff, who had been in custody since he surrendered Wednesday night, was moved to Porter County Jail after being charged formally Friday. Thiros told the judge Monday that members of Cozmanoff's family wanted him to remain in Lake County because they expected to bail him out of jail.

Sullivan set Cozmanoff's bond at $90,000 surety or $9,000 cash.

Sullivan entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Cozmanoff on the four felony counts of leaving the scene of an accident involving death and serious injury.

Buncich said he is awaiting more conclusive evidence on whether the corrections officers were victims of an accident or a targeted attack.

Police allege Cozmanoff was driving a 2002 Yukon when he struck the four officers as they jogged alongside 93rd Avenue near Main Street. Correctional Officers David Murchek, Latasha Johnson and Delano Scaife survived the incident with severe injuries.

Court papers filed with the charges allege Cozmanoff's estranged wife called police two days after the crash to say he admitted he struck the four correctional officers.

Murchek told police all four officers were running in single file on the road's gravel fringe when they heard a car behind them accelerate. Police said the Yukon's airbag control module indicated the car was being driven at full throttle and traveling about 77 mph only six seconds before impact.

However, the driver throttled the engine down one second before the accident, although the car still was traveling at 65 mph.

Buncich said that area was well-lighted. Police said they found a pair of sunglasses in Cozmanoff's home that he may have been wearing since shards from a broken passenger window were found embedded in the lenses.

Court records state Cozmanoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to a charge of public intoxication under a plea agreement in which the state dropped drunken driving charges in return for his undergoing alcohol abuse counseling.

Buncich said last week the delay between the crash and Cozmanoff's surrender made it unlikely police could determine whether drunken driving was involved.

Buncich said he is awaiting the results of forensic testing on what appears to be traces of body tissue or blood inside the car and blood on a pair of recently worn blue jeans found in the defendant's bedroom.

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