South Bend man jailed for fatal traffic accident

Published 4:48 pm Monday, March 21, 2016

As Edwardsburg’s Mark Bowman Sr. described the kind of man his late son, Mark Bowman Jr., was to Cass County Judge Michael Dodge and his courtroom Friday morning, many of the friends and loved ones of the deceased sitting in gallery wept openly.

Sitting only a few feet away from the grieving father, the man responsible for ending the younger Bowman’s life, Ryan Douglas, in a drunk driving accident nearly two years ago said nothing, merely staring downwards at the table in front of him.

“Ryan, I do forgive you,” Bowman told the defendant at the end of his remarks. “I know you didn’t do this intentionally. But I think you still need to receive the hardest time you can get.”

In the end, the elder Bowman and his family received some measure of justice that morning, as Dodge Judge sentenced the 30-year-old Douglas, of South Bend, to a minimum of three years to a maximum of 15 years in prison for a single count of reckless driving causing death during the defendant’s sentencing hearing in Cass County Court.

Douglas pleaded guilty to the offense during an earlier appearance in court Feb. 16.

The fateful accident occurred on Oct. 14, 2014. While Douglas was driving northbound on M-40 in Newberg Township, he lost control of his vehicle, careening into the opposite traffic lane and colliding head-on with a vehicle driven by Bowman Jr.

According to Dodge, not only was Douglas traveling at a rate well above the speed limit, but was intoxicated at the time, with police measuring a .06 blood alcohol level in his system shortly after the crash. Authorities also discovered case of Busch beer on the floorboard of Douglas’ vehicle, along with several opened cans.

“With your compromised ability to operate a vehicle, your speed and rainy weather conditions that night, the eventual result was not all that unexpected,” Dodge said.

Bowman, who according to the judge received “horrendous injuries” as a result of the crash, was transported the hospital for treatment. He died at the facility 10 days later, Dodge said.

On top of the statement made by Bowman’s father that morning, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz summarized several letters sent to his office from the deceased’s family, which described the victim as caring father of eight who always greeted his family with “a big smile and a big hug.” Fitz also condemned Douglas’ decision to get behind the wheel after drinking, telling the judge the Indiana man’s actions warranted prison.

“He did not that night have respect for life,” Fitz said. “He did not that night prioritize others. He prioritized what he wanted to do. He didn’t set out to kill anyone, but that is what he did.”

While acknowledging the difficult circumstances surrounding the case, Douglas’ attorney, Daniel French, asked the judge to give his client a reasonable sentence. French pointed out that the offense, while serious, was Douglas’ first criminal offense.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Douglas said in a statement to the judge. “No parents should have to bury their kids.”

Dodge decided to give Douglas a sentence toward the high end of the recommended sentencing guidelines, acknowledging that his decision would likely not satisfy the family of either the victim or defendant, he said.

“Nothing the court can do by way of this sentence can bring Mr. Bowman back, or make his friends and family whole again or remove their pain and sorrow going forward,” Dodge said.

Douglas was given credit for 15 days already served behind bars. He was also ordered to pay $15,710 worth of restitution.

Also sentenced Friday:

• Steven Richard Wood, 35, of Dowagiac, to three years of probation on methamphetamine-related charges.

• Bradley Dewayne Shears, 20, of Sturgis, to a minimum of 18 months to a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

• Dax Nathan Planck, 42, of Dowagiac, to two years of probation for breaking and entering a building with intent to commit larceny and larceny in a building.

• Owen Brookins, 55, of Dowagiac, to 18 months of probation for welfare fraud over $500.