GREENFIELD — A Greenfield man agreed to serve a 32-year sentence for his role in the drunken-driving crash that killed his girlfriend last year.
Jason Phelps, 42, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single Level 4 felony count of causing death while operating while intoxicated. Investigators said the Greenfield native was driving with a blood-alcohol content more than three times the .08 percent legal limit when he lost control of his car and collided with a house on the city’s south side, killing his front-seat passenger 45-year-old Dalene Charron of Greenfield.
It’s the second time in a decade Phelps has admitted to being intoxicated behind the wheel and causing a crash that look another’s life: 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’ criminal history led prosecutors to negotiate a stricter sentence in the new case.
The Level 4 felony count Phelps pleaded guilty to this week typically carries a maximum sentence of 12 years. The plea agreement Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner reached with the defendant adds another 20 years to that time, classifying Phelps as an habitual offender.
Phelps will return to Hancock County Superior Court 1 next month for formal sentencing. During the hearing, Judge Terry Snow will decide how to divide the 32-year sentence between time in prison and probation. Keiffner and Phelps’ attorney, John Thompkins of Indianapolis, have agreed Phelps’ prison time will be capped at 25 years.
Phelps was southbound on State Road 9 in Greenfield just before 11:30 p.m. March 4, 2017, when he sped through a curve in the roadway and lost control of his vehicle, according to court documents.
The car rolled several times and hit a home in the 600 block of South State Street, coming to rest on its roof with its front end stuck inside the home. A man and two children were inside the home at the time of the accident, but they were not injured, police said.
Phelps’ girlfriend, Charron, was riding in the front passenger seat at the time of the wreck. She died from her injuries after being airlifted to an Indianapolis hospital.
Phelps suffered minor injuries in the crash but fled the area after being released from the hospital. It took police more than two months to find him once the charges against him were filed.
Phelps told police at the scene he wasn’t sure whether he was the driver during the wreck, according to court documents. He told police he couldn’t remember who was behind the wheel when the car the flipped because he and Charron had taken turns driving several times during their 14-mile trip home from a bar in Knightstown, court documents said.
Charron started off in the driver’s seat, but she felt too drunk to continue, Phelps told police, according to court documents. She pulled over somewhere along their route, and he took over the wheel, the report said.
They traded spots several times during the drive, Phelps told police. They’d switched places too many times for him to know exactly who was driving when the accident occurred, he told police.
At the scene of the wreck, Phelps was visibly intoxicated, police said. He slurred his words as he spoke, struggled to keep his balance and was uncooperative when investigators tried to speak with him, court records state.
According to court records, Phelps had a blood-alcohol content of 0.233 percent at the time of the accident — nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.08.
Charron is the second woman Phelps is accused of killing while drunk behind the wheel, records show.
Phelps pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, resulting in the death of a person — a Class B felony — in the first case, and he served time in prison as a result.
“Nobody wins this types of cases,” Thompkins said at Wednesday’s hearing. “We’re just glad we could bring it to a close without more suffering for the family.”