VALPARAISO | A Union Township man was sentenced to four years in the Indiana Department of Correction on Friday after he pleaded guilty to the fatal crash that killed Ronald Garry Bradley.
Joseph Ruwaldt, 21, pleaded guilty in July 2012 to a Class C felony charge of operating a motor vehicle with a controlled substance causing the death of another person, Bradley, 62, also of Union Township, who was Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas’ brother-in-law.
Police alleged Ruwaldt was driving his pickup truck on County Road 100 North early in the morning after briefly sleeping off a late night of smoking marijuana when he struck and killed Bradley, a retired banker, while he was jogging in July 2011.
Although released on probation while awaiting trial, Ruwaldt was taken back to jail in January 2012 after testing positive for using synthetic marijuana.
That probation violation, said Porter Superior Judge Bill Alexa, was evidence that Ruwaldt would not respond affirmatively to further probation, therefore he did not agree with defense attorney John Vouga that Ruwaldt should be home by Christmas.
“You violated the terms of your probation and used synthetic marijuana on your probation and you said it was legal at that time. But your probation officer said, don’t do it. Within a week, you did it again,” said Alexa before sentencing Ruwaldt without suspension of any part of his sentence. He will receive credit for 243 days served and have his license suspended for three years retroactive to July 31, 2011.
Vouga had asked the judge for mercy in the case of his client due to his youth and remorse and he read a letter from Ruwaldt’s mother saying her son was suicidal in the days following the accident.
"This is a turning point in his life," said Vouga.
But Linda Bradley, who took the stand to tell the court of her suffering since the crime, said her life is forever changed by the “nightmare of epic proportions.”
"Much of the happiness and laughter in my life was left there on that road where he died," Bradley said. "... I’ve struggled deeply with not being able to say goodbye. He was alone when he died and I struggle with that every day. Joseph, you didn’t know him, but our life together was cut short by the choices you made. ... Joseph, I forgive you and so does my whole family.”
Bradley said the couple had planned a trip to do mission work in South Africa.
Ruwaldt read a letter to the Bradley family as he turned to face them and look at them in the courtroom.
“I’ve tried many times to imagine what it would be like to have a loved one taken away from me, and I cannot do so. Every day and every night I think of how it could have gone differently,” said Ruwaldt, offering his apologies to the family.