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Valpo man gets 14 years for causing death while driving drunk

Jeffrey Cleary | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Jeffrey Cleary | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:10AM



Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., sentenced a Gary businessman to 14 years in prison for killing a man while driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit.

During a more than three-hour sentencing hearing for Jeffery Alan Cleary, 66, of Valparaiso, a packed courtroom heard tapes from jail conversations in which Cleary spoke of selling numerous luxury vehicles, including Bentleys, Mercedes, Porsches and Range Rovers, of giving his employees thousands in bonuses, setting up IRA accounts in $25,000 amounts for his grandchildren and referring to the judge with an expletive.

Cleary was convicted Sept. 11 of causing death while operating while intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.15 percent, and other charges filed in the Nov. 5, 2010, death of Philip Amsden, 63, of Hebron, who was crushed between his service truck and a disabled semi with a flat tire he was repairing on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 65 near the Ridge Road ramp. Evidence at Cleary’s nine-day trial showed his blood alcohol level was 0.19 percent.

Amsden’s widow, Patricia, described her husband of 40 years as a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, earning a Purple Heart and other medals before returning to marry his high school sweetheart. “I love you. I’ll see you later,” were his last words to her as the retired Teamster left for work.

Cleary, who appeared much thinner after two months in jail, apologized to Amsden’s family. “I am the one that caused this tragedy,” he said.

Cleary’s daughter, Jody Brooks of Westville, said her father is devoted to his family and has a heart for people. “He is well aware he made a terrible mistake and he has to live with that every day he lays his head down,” she said, adding that the maximum 20-year sentence wouldn’t prove anything. Other testimony showed that Cleary arranged for a deck and ramp to be built at the home of an injured Ironworker, but never spoke of his benevolence.

Deputy prosecutor Michael Toth, who presented evidence during the trial with deputy prosecutor Monica Rogina, argued for an 18-year prison sentence, citing some of the taped jail calls as evidence that Cleary felt the rules don’t apply to him and of attempts to unload assets in the face of a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s family. In one conversation Cleary said to “load that place,” referring to the courtroom on sentencing, so that the victim’s family won’t have seats. Cleary has one prior drunken driving conviction and three prior alcohol-related arrests.

Defense attorney Kevin Milner argued for an eight-year sentence and said Toth “has tried hard to inflame the court” by playing snippets of the phone calls to portray Cleary as a big-shot “to make everyone hate him.” Milner, who represented Cleary with defense attorneys Tom Mullins and Marce Gonzalez Jr., said Cleary never intended to hurt anyone that day.

Stefaniak said while it is obvious Cleary is a highly intelligent and extremely successful man who has a big heart, he is equally as heartless for laughing and giggling during breaks in his trial in a case where a man died. The judge called that behavior “despicable and disgusting.”

Gonzalez said he will file an appeal.



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