HANCOCK COUNTY — Jennifer Sloan fell from the back of a pickup truck and sustained a life-threatening head injury during an accident in early June of 2021. She has not improved after one year of care, officials said.
The man accused of causing the accident and the injuries, Michael Scott Kavanaugh, has reached a plea agreement with state officials. If the deal is accepted by a county judge Thursday, June 23 (today), the agreement calls for no jail time but demands restitution.
Kavanaugh, 43, New Palestine, is facing a Level 4 felony count of causing catastrophic injury when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and a Class A misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated-endangering a person. The most serious charge carries a sentence of up to 12 years in prison.
Kavanaugh is set for a change of plea hearing in Hancock County Superior Court 1 where he is expected to enter a guilty plea to the Level 4 felony. The deal calls for an eight-year term with all eight years suspended to probation. The deal states Kavanaugh must pay restitution in the amount of $100,000 to the family of Sloan so they can pay for her medical care.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said the case is unusual in that most defendants who cause life-threatening injuries while intoxicated are given time in prison. In this case, however, the state followed the wishes of the family who need Kavanaugh to work to help pay for Sloan’s care.
“She is still under substantial medical care and we could not talk with her, so we worked with the family to determine the best sentence,” Eaton said. “This is a tough one since she is pretty much at the same status as the day the accident happened.”
Eaton went on to say the type of money the family needs to care for Sloan far exceeds their assets, and they need Kavanaugh’s financial help — something he can not give if he is incarcerated.
“In the eyes of the family, they believe justice will be served in the terms of the agreement,” Eaton said.
The incident occurred in the early morning hours of June 6, 2021 outside the Round the Corner Grill, 19 S. Bittner Road in New Palestine. According to a probable cause affidavit, Sloan, 45, New Palestine, and Ryan Barker, 28, Greenfield, had walked to the bar earlier in the night. Kavanaugh arrived later, but the three left at the same time, around 2 a.m. The affidavit described the three as friends.
Barker told investigators he and Sloan climbed onto the tailgate of Kavanaugh’s pickup to get a ride home and told him to go slowly. But, Barker said, “he just took off like a banshee,” the affidavit said. Barker and Sloan tumbled off the tailgate, and Sloan struck her head on the pavement. According to the affidavit, Barker told police he tried to catch Sloan as they were falling but was unable to break her fall.
Police administered a field sobriety test on Kavanaugh and later drove him to Hancock Regional Hospital for a blood draw for a toxicology test. Kavanaugh told an investigator he had been drinking during the night and said, “I’m obviously intoxicated, but they were double or more than me,” the affidavit said.
Kavanaugh told police “they (Sloan and Barker) were being idiots,” at the time of the incident.
Sloan was taken to IU Methodist Hospital at the time of the incident and has never recovered, officials said.
The plea deal, if accepted by the court, states Kavanaugh may petition to terminate probation after all the restitution has been paid and commits no new violations. The state will also dismiss the operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person charge, the agreement states.
Court documents say Kavanaugh will also have to complete substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and an advocate against drunk driving panel. His driver’s license will be suspended for one year from the date of the signed agreement, which is June 10.