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Andrew Salka

Andrew Salka

CROWN POINT — Family members of a Hebron man sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for killing a teenager while driving high on a "cocktail" of drugs insulted the boy's mother, stormed out of the courtroom and called the man's defense attorney a profane name.

On the other side of the aisle, cries of "yes" and "thank God" could be heard among the late teen's family and friends after a judge sentenced Christopher E. Campbell, 44.

Campbell already had several drunken driving convictions and 49 license suspensions before getting behind the wheel Oct. 17, 2016, and striking and killing 17-year-old Andrew Salka as Salka walked home from school along 73rd Avenue in Merrillville.

Campbell knew he had an addiction problem and had been given "every opportunity" to enter substance abuse counseling, Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray said.

The judge agreed with requests from Salka's family and sentenced Campbell to the maximum allowed under a plea agreement filed in November, with no option for probation.

Salka's mother, father and sister — supported by a courtroom full of friends and family — described the pain their family has endured because of his death.

'Until my last breath'

"As you sat in a hospital sobering up on Oct. 17, 2016, I sat in a hospital holding my brother's hand while he was on life support," sister Tiffani Johnson said. "The injuries you caused were so severe that even the life support machines couldn't keep him alive. I was holding his hand when he flat-lined. That awful memory will haunt me for the rest of my life."

Johnson and her parents said after the hearing they were satisfied with the sentence, but the pain of Salka's loss will never leave them. 

"It's hard to look at my mom and feel her pain every day, to watch her struggle," Johnson said.

Salka's mother, Jennifer Salka, said her son planned to marry his childhood friend Montana Schulatz one day and planned on attending culinary school. Instead, Campbell robbed her son of his future, she said. 

"I will forever miss my son until the day I take my last breath," she said.

When asked about the insults hurled by Campbell's family, Johnson said she believed Campbell cried while giving his statement not because he felt remorse but because he was scared of going to prison.

"They shouldn't have started screaming that their son didn't kill my brother," Johnson said. "How else would you say it? He's gone."

Defense points to doctors

Campbell's attorney, Casey McCloskey, urged the judge to consider that Campbell was first prescribed painkillers for a 2009 back injury and said doctors continued to prescribe several types of drugs despite Campbell's addiction problem.

McCloskey said he wasn't trying to justify Campbell's actions, but pointing out what Campbell "has been going through." 

"It isn't just getting high," he said.

McCloskey and Campbell said Campbell has five children, not four as listed in a presentence report, and several grandchildren. However, Campbell and his attorney made conflicting statements about the age of the youngest child.

Campbell, who had a mix of several classes of prescription drugs and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash, offered a tearful apology to Salka's family.

"I've thought long and hard about life in the last two years," he said. "Life is a precious gift that cannot be squandered."

He said he didn't want to squander his own life, and asked for leniency.

'Time for punitive action'

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Nadia Wardrip said Campbell deserved no leniency.

Campbell's criminal record began in 1991, when he was charged with possession of alcohol while still a teenager, she said.

His first arrest for operating while intoxicated was in 2003. He has been on probation five times, four for alcohol- and drug-related offenses, she said. He previously served time in a community corrections program and attended a victims' impact panel.

When Campbell was screened for the Lake County Community Corrections program, he admitted he was still using illegal substances to self-medicate, she said.

"This defendant had enough time for rehabilitation," Wardrip said. "It is time for punitive action."

After Murray pronounced the sentence, members of Campbell's family could be heard saying "smug" and insulting Salka's mother. Court security officers approached and ordered Campbell's family to leave first.

One woman stormed out, banging a door and loudly called out to Campbell's defense attorney, "You sorry son of a b----."

Jessica Schulatz, the mother of Salka's fiancee Montana, 18, said her daughter couldn't bring herself to attend the hearing.

"She struggles with this every day," she said. "She's heartbroken. They were supposed to get married one day."

Schulatz said she could understand why Campbell's family was upset, but their disrespectful behavior showed "the whole family is involved" and another chance at treatment would not have worked.

"Nothing would have gotten better because they support this behavior," she said.

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Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.