Man admits to shooting during car chase

Ryan Hancock

GOSHEN — An Elkhart man faces prison time for unloading gunfire on a car and injuring another man more than two years ago.

Ryan Hancock, 27, admitted to the shooting during a hearing in Elkhart County Circuit Court Thursday.

Hancock pleaded guilty to five charges: a Level 3 felony count of aggravated battery, a Level 5 felony count of criminal recklessness, two Level 6 felony counts of criminal recklessness and a misdemeanor count of possession of a handgun without a license.

He was originally charged with attempted murder, but the prosecutor’s office downgraded that charge to aggravated battery ahead of the hearing.

As part of the plea agreement, the court will decide Hancock’s sentence on the aggravated battery charge and the Level 5 criminal recklessness count. Those terms would run at the same time. On top of them, he would serve another four years in prison and a year of probation on the other three charges.

Hancock admitted he fired guns at a car driven by the victim, injuring the man and nearly striking two other people.

He told the court he and the victim had been in a dispute, and on May 13, 2017, the victim was harassing him in traffic and tried to run the car Hancock was driving off the road.

Hancock retaliated. He drove up on the victim’s car and shot at it with a shotgun, damaging it. A bystander told police a shotgun projectile grazed one of her pant legs while she was in a yard along C.R. 7, and she saw one of the cars drive past, according to the probable cause affidavit in the case.

The shotgun fire disabled the victim’s car, and it stopped at a house. Hancock said he got out of his car and used a handgun to open fire again on the victim’s car. The victim was struck in the leg and injured, and his passenger was nearly struck by bullets.

Police counted multiple bullet holes and damages to the victim’s car, the affidavit shows.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno accepted Hancock’s plea and convicted him. He then scheduled Aug. 22 as the date for sentencing.

FATAL CRASH TRIAL

Several other hearings were held in Circuit Court Thursday.

Among them, a fatal OWI crash case, pending now for more than three years, was pushed back again to December.

Auston Masson, 24, Plymouth, is charged with two Level 4 felony counts of causing death when operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The case stems from a crash in February 2016 in which Masson lost control of the car he was driving amid snowy conditions and struck an SUV on Ind. 15. A passenger in his vehicle, Christopher Swihart of New Paris, died in the crash.

A toxicology analysis identified marijuana metabolites, an amphetamine and a controlled substance in his blood, the probable cause affidavit in the case shows. Masson initially told investigators he had smoked pot a few days before the crash and had taken Advil. He later admitted he had also taken Adderall prior to the crash, according to the document.

The charges were filed that September, and the case has been delayed numerous times since then. Masson’s trial was last scheduled to begin Aug. 12.

His attorney, Matthew Johnson, sought to push back the trial again during Thursday’s hearing, saying he’s working to bring in an expert for a crash reconstruction. Johnson noted finding one is a currently a challenge due to availability, and he asked for at least four months.

Judge Christofeno granted the delay request and moved the trial to Dec. 9.

He also expressed concern about the need for a crash reconstruction, saying an expert should have been secured months ago by Masson’s former attorney toward the beginning of the case.

Johnson, who was appointed Masson’s attorney in November 2018 after the previous counsel withdrew from the case, argued he needs a reconstruction of the events so he can prepare a defense on what ultimately caused the crash.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.

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