Violence born out of a love triangle has led an Elkhart man to prison for shooting his rival during a car chase. That rival is the same man who’s now charged with burglarizing a Goshen landlord’s home about a month ago.

Ryan Hancock, 27, was sentenced to about 13 years in prison and four years of probation on a charge of aggravated battery and other counts during a hearing in Elkhart County Circuit Court Thursday.

Hancock had pleaded guilty in the case July 18, admitting he shot and injured Matthew Smiechowski and nearly struck two other people with bullets as the car chase came to a head on C.R. 7 in May 2017.

“Mr. Hancock is extremely lucky he’s not sitting here facing murder charges or reckless homicide charges,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kathleen Claeys said during the sentencing hearing.

Claeys pushed for the maximum sentence of 16 years in prison on the Level 3 felony aggravated battery charge alone plus additional time based on the other four counts in the case.

She said Hancock took it upon himself to end a love triangle involving him, Smiechowski and a woman.

LOVE TRIANGLE ESCALATES

The investigation found Hancock shot at Smiechowski’s car seven times during the incident — he fired two rounds with a shotgun that disabled the car during the chase, and then after it stopped, he shot five more times with a handgun. A bullet struck Smiechowski in the leg and injured him. A passenger in his car was almost shot, while another round grazed the pants of a bystander in a nearby yard.

As police responded, Hancock then fled in his car, leading to a high-speed pursuit that ended with a crash in Michigan. He still faces eight criminal charges there related to the pursuit, according to details in the hearing.

Hancock was originally charged with attempted murder. Claeys noted the count was downgraded to aggravated battery after new information came out that contradicted details provided to investigators at the scene and differs with details in the legal statement justifying Hancock’s arrest.

RETALIATORY RESPONSE

Hancock’s attorney, Jeffrey Majerek, argued he acted out of fear as Smiechowski had targeted him prior to the chase. While arguing for a more lenient sentence, Majerek said Smiechowski had run Hancock’s car off the road as the rivalry came to a head, and Hancock retaliated violently.

“His state of mind was first self-preservation,” Majerek said. “This was thrown at him, and he overreacted in his response.”

Majerek provided letters to the court, including one from the woman that he said described different incidents, including one where she claimed Hancock protected her from Smiechowski earlier in 2017. That led to a fight where Hancock was injured. Smiechowski was charged with battery, but the case was dismissed while Hancock was still in the hospital and couldn’t testify, Majerek said.

Claeys dismissed the woman’s letter as laughable, alleging she played both sides at her convenience.

Hancock apologized to Smiechowski and the people who were almost shot when he opened fire.

“I acted irrationally out of fear,” Hancock said to the court. “But, I’m taking full responsibility for what I did.”

JUDGE’S SENTENCE

Judge Michael Christofeno sentenced Hancock to serve nine years in prison and three years of probation on the aggravated battery charge with a five-year term to run at the same time on a Level 5 felony count of criminal recklessness. On top of that, Hancock was sentenced to another four years in prison on two Level 6 felony counts of criminal recklessness, plus another year of probation on a misdemeanor count of possession of a handgun without a license.

He noted this is Hancock’s first felony conviction.

Smiechowski sat in the courtroom during the sentencing as a jail inmate.

He remains in custody while facing charges of burglary and drug dealing in two separate cases following his arrest in Goshen July 30. Smiechowski is suspected of participating in the theft of up to $400,000 in cash plus other items from a house owned by a Goshen landlord.

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

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