GREENFIELD — A Greenfield man accused of killing his girlfriend in a drunk-driving crash last month will turn himself into police, ending a weeks-long search, his newly hired attorney has told local law enforcement.
For nearly a month, police have looked for Jason Phelps, 42, 640 S. State St., Greenfield, who they say had a blood-alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit when he flipped his car into a house in the city last month.
Phelps’ girlfriend, 45-year-old Greenfield native Dalene Charron, was the front-seat passenger in the car. She died from her injuries days after the March 4 wreck, prompting prosecutors to file a single count of causing death while operating a vehicle while intoxicated — a Level 4 felony — against Phelps.
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But the man hasn’t been seen locally since he was released from an Indianapolis hospital a day after the crash, leading investigators to believe he fled the area. Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche said his officers have been working with state and local investigators for weeks to track down Phelps — even knocking on neighborhood doors with a photo of Phelps, asking residents if they knew of his whereabouts.
This week, prosecutors learned that Indianapolis attorney John Tompkins was hired to represent Phelps in the criminal case. Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he’s been in touch with Tompkins, who said Phelps plans to turn himself in within a week.
Tompkins did not return a call for comment on this story.
The development in the case comes as a shock to local investigators who have been chasing Phelps for weeks, fielding tips from community members that turned up nothing, Rasche said. He’s eager to finally have Phelps behind bars, where he can’t harm anyone else.
“It’s been one deadend after another,” Rasche said. “We’re trying bring him in because … ultimately someone lost their life at his hands.”
Police say Phelps was driving southbound on State Road 9 through Greenfield on March 4 just before 11:30 p.m. when he sped through a curve in the roadway and lost control of his vehicle.
The car rolled several times, coming to rest on its top with its front end stuck inside a home in the 600 block of South State Street.
Officials say Phelps had a blood-alcohol content of 0.23 percent at the time of the crash — nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.08.
First-responders noted Phelps was visibly intoxicated at the scene, officials said. He slurred his words as he spoke and struggled to keep his balance, according to court documents.
He was uncooperative when police tried to speak with him, telling investigators that he couldn’t remember if he was driving when the car crashed, court records state; he and Charron, his girlfriend, had taken turns driving several times during their 14-mile trip home from a bar in Knightstown, Phelps told officers.
Charron had to be cut out of the passenger side of the car, officials said. The woman suffered, among other injuries, a broken neck and fractured skull, court documents state. She died at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis on March 11.
Phelps suffered a broken arm, was treated at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital and released, officials said.
Charron is the second woman Phelps is accused of killing while drunk behind the wheel, records show.
In 2007, he admitted to using cocaine and marijuana before accidentally backing his truck over 75-year-old Inell Carter in a parking lot in Greenfield, causing fatal injuries.
Phelps pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, resulting in the death of a person — a Class B felony — in that case, and he served time in prison as a result.
The Level 4 felony count Phelps faces now carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison. If he is found guilty of being a habitual offender, his potential sentence could be increased to 32 years, officials said.