VALPARAISO | An attempt by James Lohman III to explain steps he has taken behind bars to contain his alcoholism did not prevent a judge from giving him a 20-year sentence for causing a drunk driving death.
Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford called the incident the worst of its type and said the official description of the Sept. 3, 2011 incident is far more severe than recounted by Lohman during Monday's sentencing hearing.
Lohman drove over 45-year-old Sheri Jania as she stood in front of his vehicle outside the Shift Change Bar where she worked on U.S. 20 and Ind. 149 in Burns Harbor, Bradford said.
The 50-year-old opened the vehicle door before leaving the parking lot and despite others yelling that Jania was under the vehicle, Lohman drove off dragging Jania's body, the judge said.
"This is far from an accident," Bradford said.
Lohman, who had pleaded guilty to felony counts of leaving the scene of an accident and driving drunk resulting in a death, said Monday he controlled his drinking until the 2009 death of his fiancee.
"After she was killed, I just didn't care anymore," he said.
On the day in question, Lohman said he drank a couple beers before arriving at the Shift Change Bar with two friends, where he ordered a pitcher of beer. He said he was told to leave the bar because his friends were African American and claimed his group was physically attacked. He said he drove off only to learn later he had struck and killed Jania.
The victim's son, Nathan Jania, told the court through tears that he lost a mom and best friend, and is lost without her guidance.
He said he is no longer active, does not care much for holidays and is watching the remainder of his family fall apart.
"Everything just seems to be getting worse," he said.
Bradford told Lohman that if he is truly interested in using his story to help others with drug and alcohol problems, he will find a sizable audience behind bars.