GOSHEN — There wasn’t much Ryan Hancock could have done to make things worse for himself during a May 2017 shooting and chase, a judge remarked while handing down an 18-year sentence Thursday.
Hancock, 27, of Elkhart, pleaded guilty in July to aggravated battery, a Level 3 felony, as well as three felony counts of criminal recklessness and a misdemeanor count of carrying a handgun without a license. He originally faced charges including attempted murder, a Level 1 felony, following the May 13, 2017, incident, which started in Osolo Township and ended with a vehicle crash near Mottville, Michigan.
He admitted that he shot into a vehicle with two occupants before fleeing from police. He was identified by his shooting victim, 25-year-old Matthew Smiechowski, who was struck in the leg.
Smiechowski attended court for the sentencing but didn’t want to address the judge, instead submitting a written victim impact statement. He is currently in jail on unrelated charges including burglary and dealing prescription pills.
‘Not the victim’
His attorney, Jeffrey Majerek, told Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno that Hancock and Smiechowski had run-ins in the past and Hancock believed he was protecting a woman they both knew. Majerek said Smiechowski was the aggressor in the May 2017 incident and Hancock reacted, though he admittedly took it too far.
“He didn’t set out to cause a danger to people, he was in fear,” Majerek said. “He said the victim was the kind of guy who’s gonna whup your butt, then come back the next day and whup it again.”
Elkhart County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kathleen Claeys said Hancock was not the victim in this incident. She pointed out that he fired at the vehicle twice with a shotgun and five more times with a handgun, and could have easily struck other people in the area.
“This is a case of could-be’s. We could be on trial for murder,” she said. “He fired seven rounds into a vehicle ... He knew what the potential outcome could have been, and he didn’t care.”
She acknowledged that more facts later came to light that were different from what was originally reported, which was why her office downgraded the attempted murder charge. Claeys also remarked on the love triangle that appeared to underlie the incident, involving Hancock, Smiechowski and the woman.
“Say it isn’t so,” Christofeno remarked in mock surprise.
Hancock told the judge he acted irrationally, out of fear, but that he took full responsibility for his actions. He said he hoped when all the victims who were involved received the letters he had written, they could forgive him.
Christofeno told Hancock his acceptance of responsibility was a big mark in his favor as he weighed the sentence. He said he considered him a low risk to commit such a crime again, provided he can stay out of love triangles.
But he said he found it an aggravating circumstance that he acted so inappropriately out of jealousy in the first place.
He also pointed out that Hancock has eight pending felony charges in Michigan related to the vehicle chase and the fact that he brought guns across the border.
“The only way this could have been worse is if you made it into a third state somehow,” Christofeno said. “You could have pulled a U-turn and made it into Ohio or Illinois.”
Hancock’s sentence includes 14 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections followed by four years on probation. As originally charged, including the Level 1 felony, he faced closer to 40 years in prison.