South Bend Tribune and WSBT-TV Report
12:19 PM EDT, June 18, 2012
A Mishawaka man who police have called a “danger to the community” because of several unrelated crimes he has been accused of pleaded guilty Monday to two felony counts of causing serious bodily injury while operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
This stemmed from a crash on March 7 that left two people injured -- one with critical head injuries. The collision occurred about 11:30 p.m. at the intersection of Logan Street and Jefferson Boulevard on the dividing line between South Bend and Mishawaka.
Witnesses told police 21-year-old Joseph Wukotich was driving a silver SUV speeding north in the southbound lane on Logan.
After running one car off the road, witnesses said Wukotich lost control of his vehicle and slammed into the rear of a red vehicle stopped at a traffic light, causing that vehicle to rear-end another car in front.
Aric Quinn, 17, was trapped in the back seat of the red car. He was hospitalized with severe head injuries that required a portion of skull bone to be removed to reduce pressure on his brain, according to the case's probable cause affidavit.
Quinn, who now wears a helmet to protect the area where the bone was removed, continues to have "trouble with his memory and rationalization," the affidavit noted.
Another occupant of the red vehicle, Taylor Northrop, required 10 stitches to close a cut in her forehead.
Wukotich told an investigator he did not remember the crash, but admitted he had been drinking beer and Jack Daniels and smoking marijuana prior to the crash. Wukotich added he had also "taken some Lorazepam."
Wukotich submitted to a portable breathalyzer test, which registered a blood-alcohol content of .17, more than twice the legal limit of .08, according to the affidavit.
Then, in an unrelated incident on April 1, Wukotich found himself in a heap of trouble for allegedly stabbing Michael Merritt during an argument at the McKinley Woods apartments.
St. Joseph County prosecutors charged Wukotich, 21, with a felony count of aggravated battery in connection with the stabbing that left Merritt in critical condition with two stab wounds in his stomach.
When Mishawaka police arrived at McKinley Woods, they found Merritt on the ground with "two very serious stab wounds to his abdomen" and "some of his internal organs ... visible through the injuries," according to the case's probable cause affidavit.
Merritt was taken to an area hospital with injuries so severe that Mishawaka police turned the case over to the county's Metro Homicide unit.
Several witnesses said Wukotich was heard "yelling out" to Merritt before the two began screaming at each other through a locked door, according to the affidavit.
Wukotich opened the door and came outside yelling when Merritt "punched" him, the affidavit charged.
An investigator who interviewed Wukotich said the suspect went into his apartment and grabbed a knife because he believed there would be "trouble."
During a fight that ensued, Wukotich initially claimed Merritt "ran into the knife," but then admitted he stabbed the victim in "self defense."
Following surgery, Merritt's condition was upgraded and he is now recovering.
The charge of aggravated battery in connection with the stabbing is a class B felony that carries a sentence of six to 20 years in prison upon conviction.
A judge set Wukotich's bond at $2 million corporate surety or $200,000 cash on the aggravated battery charge.
Each class D felony count of causing serious bodily injury while operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated carries a sentence of six months to three years behind bars if convicted. Sentencing for that case is set for July 25.
A judge set Wukotich's bond at $80,000 surety or $8,000 cash in connection with the DUI counts.
"The State of Indiana requests a higher than standard bond because (Wukotich) is a danger to the community," Metro Homicide Officer James Taylor wrote in the affidavit.
Wukotich is also awaiting sentencing on felony charges of intimidation and criminal mischief in yet another unrelated case.
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