Sheriff: Distracted driving led to fatal crashes

Published 6:03 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

CASS COUNTY — After three people were killed on local roads within a three-day span, law enforcement is stressing the importance of road safety. 

Cass County Sheriff Rick Behnke informed the Cass County Board of Commissioners that the common denominator in two recent fatal Cass County crashes was distracted driving. Behnke said investigators are checking the phones to see if at-fault drivers were texting at the time of the crash, but they are not sure of the reason for the distracted driving. 

“They’re not paying attention while they’re driving down the road,” Behnke said. “We don’t know exactly what it is … but the at-fault drivers did not see what transpired.” 

The first crash happened at approximately 4:30 a.m. Monday, May 16, when a car driven by 20-year-old Conner Thorpe, of White Pigeon, struck two motorcycles from behind at the intersection of U.S. 12 and Baldwin Prairie Road in Porter Township. The two motorcyclists were identified as brothers Tanner Hull, 20, and William Kunz, 21, both of White Pigeon. 

“[Thorpe] said he never saw them,” Behnke said. “He didn’t know what he did. He said he never saw anything. … He said he might have been tired, he said he might have blacked out for a second. We’re not really sure what caused this.” 

The second crash happened the afternoon of Wednesday, May 18, when 28-year-old Curtis Mengel, of Warsaw, Ind., crossed the center line on Dailey Road in La Grange Township, and struck the vehicle of 67-year-old Robert Sass, of La Porte, Ind. Both subjects were transported to hospitals for treatment with serious injuries sustained in the crash, and Sass succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. 

Behnke stressed the importance of remaining alert and focused on the road at all times when driving.  

“When you’re paying attention, it takes 1.5 seconds to react,” he said. “It might be looking down, changing the radio station … when you’re not paying attention, that number doubles or triples, and the result is an incident like we saw this week.”