CROWN POINT — A former lieutenant for the Lake County Sheriff's Office pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to two felonies Monday for hitting a man with his squad car while intoxicated at the 2016 Gary Air Show.

Guy J. Mikulich, 39, pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, causing serious bodily injury, both level 6 felony offenses.

Per the terms of a plea agreement, Mikulich was sentenced by Judge Clarence Murray to 2 ½ years in prison, which will instead be served in Lake County Community Corrections, with initial placement in the community correction's home detention program.

He will be required to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet for the first year of home detention. The requirement may be lifted if he completes one year of home detention without an alcohol-related violation.

Mikulich was also sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, suspended for probation, which will be served consecutive to his term in community corrections.

Mikulich agreed to surrender his police powers and credentials as part of his agreement, and promised not to seek future employment as a law enforcement officer. He agreed his mental illness precluded him from possessing a firearm, per state and federal law.

He was ordered to continue psychiatric treatment as part of his probation, and will comply with any mental health or alcohol and drug treatment that is recommended by his probation officer.

Mikulich admitted as part of his pleas that he was an on-duty sheriff's deputy working security July 10, 2016, at the 2016 Gary Air Show. He said he was intoxicated while working, with about a 0.13 blood alcohol content.

At approximately 4:45 p.m., he drove his police vehicle off the roadway in the 7700 block of Oak Avenue. He struck Derrick Dircks, 34, of Frankfort, Illinois, causing multiple injuries to Dircks, including loss of consciousness, soft tissue injury, a punctured thigh, and numerous lacerations and abrasions.

Mikulich fled the area, but he was stopped and arrested by a Gary police officer.

Victim's wife claims cover-up by Lake County cops

Maureen Dircks, the victim's wife, provided a tearful victim impact statement at Tuesday's court hearing. She told Mikulich his actions that day could have killed her husband.

“My children watched in horror as their dad laid on the pavement, thinking he was dead,” she said.

Dircks claimed Mikulich's fellow Lake County policeman conspired to cover up the crime, and they would have been successful if the incident was not recorded by a surveillance camera.

“It's so sad to me those who swore to protect us, instead tried to protect themselves,” she said.

The Dircks family filed a lawsuit related to the crash in March 2017 seeking damages from Mikulich, the Lake County Board of Commissioners and Lake County Sheriff.

Mikulich puts spotlight on police mental health

Mikulich apologized to the Dircks family, as well as to his family, friends and community.

“I took an oath to protect and serve, and I failed all of you,” he said, crying.

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But Mikulich said his struggle with mental illness was well-known to the Lake County Sheriff's Department, and he blamed his former employer for not adequately addressing the mental health issues of its officers.

He said Monday he first reported to the department's psychologist in the spring of 2016 he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse. He said he suffered from sleeplessness, paranoia and memory loss, and he self-medicated with alcohol. 

He said he was forced to take a leave of absence for two weeks in late March into early April 2016 after “breaking down” in his commander's office.

He said his mental problems at the time were compounded by the growing tensions between police and some community members, which made him believe the country was headed toward collapse.

He said he was dispatched July 9, 2016, to the Wells Street beach after two men drowned attempting to save an 11-year-old boy, who got caught in dangerous rip currents in Lake Michigan.

He said beachgoers turned on police after he got there, calling him a “coward” and “a piece of (expletive).”

“I couldn't protect people anymore,” he said he realized in that moment.

Mikulich said he tried to call off work July 10, 2016, but he was ordered to report for duty.

He said he believed the sheriff's office did not address the mental health issues of officers in the department. He said superiors encouraged officers to "cope like a man," which meant using alcohol. 

Sheriff responds to criticisms

Emiliano Perez, spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff's Office, said Monday the department has an employee assistance program, as well as a psychologist to help officers dealing with mental health issues.

He said Indiana State Police, the agency responsible for investigated the case against Mikulich, provided “no report of a cover-up by Lake County Sheriff's officers.”

“Sheriff Martinez will ensure that any allegation of criminal wrongdoing by any Lake County officer be immediately forwarded to the appropriate outside agency for investigation,” Perez said.

Murray told Mikulich at the sentencing he understood the stress suffered by law enforcement officers, but there was no excuse for his actions. He said the former lieutenant could have insisted on taking himself off the rotation that day.

“You did not do that, and that is your fault,” he said.

Maureen Dircks said after the sentencing her husband is doing better and working toward recovery. She began crying when asked about Mikulich's statement.

“I'm sorry the system failed him,” she said.

Gallery: Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.