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WINFIELD — The Lake County prosecutor said an alleged hit-and-run by a Winfield town councilman is going before a grand jury in March to determine if criminal charges will be pursued.

"There's enough evidence here to go this route," Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Wednesday. 

In October, Carter asked for an independent police probe into the alleged hit-and-run by Councilman Jim Simmons. The incident took place Sept. 27 involving Simmons and James Ballard, of Gary, the owner of a landscaping service.

Simmons declined to comment on the matter, referring all questions to his attorney, Paul Stracci.

Stracci said it speaks volumes that the state has decided to present its investigation to a grand jury rather than directly file criminal charges.

"We are confident the grand jury will find no cause to charge our client with any crime," he said.

As previously reported in The Times, attorney and former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez said the incident followed an argument between Simmons and Dominguez’s client, Ballard. The two argued over wood chips that were either near or in the street in the 5200 block of 105th Lane in Winfield, Dominguez said.

According to Dominguez, Simmons demanded the chips be cleaned up, and Ballard said it would be cleaned up when they were finished with the job.

In a letter sent to Carter, Dominguez said Ballard was assaulted by Simmons, who identified himself as the Town Council vice president, when Simmons drove his truck over the landscaper's foot and lower leg. Ballard fell on Simmons' truck during the incident, Dominguez alleges.

Dominguez said Ballard asked his employees at the site to call 911, and Simmons stated, "I pay the police."

According to Dominguez, an ambulance was dispatched to the scene. Ultimately, Ballard was treated at Community Hospital in Munster where he was diagnosed with a fractured bone to his left foot and injuries to his leg and hips.

Dominguez states in his letter to Carter that by the time police arrived, Simmons had left the scene in his pickup truck. Dominguez said Ballard asked Benton if he was going to arrest Simmons for a hit-and-run accident, criminal recklessness or other potential criminal charges, but that Benton did nothing and took no statements from the witnesses at the accident scene.

Carter said Dominguez raised enough questions to warrant a police probe independent of the Winfield town marshal. The matter was referred to the Lake County sheriff, who already has a police contract and jurisdiction in Winfield.

Susan Severtson, Dominguez's co-counsel on the case, said on behalf of their client they are pleased the prosecutor has decided to convene a grand jury for the purpose of evaluating the evidence in the case.

The grand jury in Lake Criminal Court is scheduled for March 15.


Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.