Officers cleared in death of man during pursuit

ELKHART — A man who was killed in a car crash in front of the post office while fleeing from police on June 9 caused his own death, investigators announced Monday. 

Officers chasing Michael Mattox, 31, of Elkhart, did not engage in reckless behavior during the pursuit, according to a statement issued by Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Elaine Becker. 

According to the statement, Elkhart officers were dispatched to the area of 2200 Morehouse Avenue early on June 9 to assist a woman screaming for help. A man later identified as Mattox was seen leaving the area in a silver Rav4 SUV.

Patrolman Trevor Miller and Sgt. Ryan Huff were on the scene, the report said. Huff was closest to the SUV and immediately activated his emergency lights.

Rather than stopping in response to the officer, Mattox accelerated rapidly, disregarded numerous stop signs and traffic signals, and traveled north on Main Street at speeds exceeding 90 mph, according to the report.

Although Huff was the primary pursuing officer as Mattox raced toward downtown, the report said, the officer was unable to keep up with Mattox because he had to slow down through intersections northbound on Main Street, such as Indiana Avenue and Prairie Street.

As Huff was passing through the intersection of Prairie and Main, a train approached the Main Street crossing, causing the safety arms to lower to block traffic. Investigators said Mattox drove through the safety arms just before the train reached the crossing at an extremely high rate of speed, before striking a parked car on Main Street and causing his vehicle to flip over and crash into a concrete flower bed and the post office. Mattox’s vehicle then caught fire.

Officers approaching the area just north of the railroad tracks observed the crashed vehicle and attempted to put out the fire, the report said. Although the fire was extinguished, Mattox was already deceased. An autopsy revealed that Mattox suffered extensive injuries in the crash, which were immediately fatal, according to the report. 

Mattox was found to have a significant amount of alcohol in his blood, as well as methamphetamine, the prosecutor said. 

The Elkhart County Homicide Unit was dispatched to investigate the death. The investigation documented numerous witnesses, multiple video recordings and the findings from autopsy which were received on July 15. Additionally, investigators documented evidence that Mattox had beaten and strangled the woman that had been screaming for assistance, threatening to kill her, according to the statement. 

The neighbor who called 911 provided valuable information for emergency responders to locate the victim as well as the alleged perpetrator, within about 3 minutes, the report said. In addition, the parked vehicle that Mattox struck contained a person sleeping in the back seat, causing minor injuries.

Becker said she reviewed the investigation and determined that the cause of Mattox’s death was a direct result of impaired and reckless driving, and a refusal to stop for police investigating an emergency report of a citizen needing police assistance. Becker said she evaluated all evidence to determine if any officer unlawfully contributed to Mattox’s death.

"Specifically, it was clear that Huff slowed when approaching intersections to ensure public safety, causing him to lose proximity to Mattox, and did not engage in reckless behavior during the pursuit," Becker said in the statement. "Rather, Mattox’s choice to drive at extremely dangerous speeds going over the railroad tracks, while impaired by alcohol and methamphetamine, resulted in his losing control of his vehicle and crashing into the parked car and structures. Mattox’s death was directly caused by his own actions."

Becker said the person sleeping the back of the car could easily have been killed, and other drivers and pedestrians in the area could have been injured. 

"It is hopeful that this tragic event is a reminder that stopping for emergency responders is not only required by our laws, it is necessary for our community to ensure everyone’s safety is protected," she said.

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