HIGHLAND | An off-duty Highland firefighter died early Sunday while driving a department off-road vehicle in the 2900 block of Condit Street, police said.
Richard Haschke, 50, of the 3000 block of Strong Street in Highland, died of blunt force trauma, according to the Lake County coroner's office. He was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m.
Highland police Cmdr. George Georgeff said Haschke used a code commonly known to all firefighters to get into the station and took the department's Polaris Ranger.
Georgeff said Haschke was turning a corner when he sped up and lost control of the vehicle causing it to overturn in the 2900 block of Condit Street. Indiana Department of Natural Resources said they responded to the crash at 3:26 a.m.
Haschke, who was driving the vehicle, died at the scene, officials said.
Jeffery Cifaldi, 31, of LaPorte, a passenger in the vehicle, was taken to The Community Hospital in Munster for a broken arm, according to the release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Bryan Minnich, 42, of Highland, also was in the vehicle but was not injured.
The two passengers told police they had been drinking with Haschke before the crash happened, Georgeff said. A blood-alcohol level for Haschke had not been determined Sunday night.
None of the people in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
According to a Highland police press release, Haschke was not authorized to use the vehicle. He was not responding to any incident on behalf of the Fire Department during the time of the crash.
Georgeff said no one saw Haschke taking the vehicle from the station early Sunday. He said officials don't think Haschke had the vehicle for very long before the crash happened.
"He crashed almost directly behind the fire station," he said. "He hadn't traveled very far with it."
Haschke had worked as a volunteer firefighter for a year and a half. Georgeff said Haschke was new in the department and had just finished his probationary period with the department.
The Highland Fire Department chief could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Highland Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff's Department continue investigating the crash.