Firefighter crashes van into house near Hebron; suffers burns, taken to hospital
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent December 10, 2013 9:27AM
Investigators look over the charred remains of a minivan Tuesday morning after John C. Wall, a firefighter with the Hobart Fire Department, crashed it into his home, setting both the minivan and the home ablaze. | Post-Tribune Photo
Updated: January 12, 2014 6:21AM
HEBRON — A battalion chief with the Hobart Fire Department crashed his family’s minivan into his home near Hebron on Tuesday morning, got out of the van and asked officers to shoot him, then climbed back into the burning vehicle.
John C. Wall, 48, already was charged with multiple felonies last month after attacking his wife and threatening her with a gun. He suffered severe burns to his face and hands and was transferred from Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., said Sgt. Larry LaFlower, public information officer with the Porter County Sheriff’s Department.
Wall was in critical condition before being moved, according to an official with Franciscan St. Anthony. He was transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., which has a burn care unit; officials with Loyola were not able to release further details.
Wall will most likely face additional charges, though the incident is still under investigation by the sheriff’s department; the state fire marshal’s office; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Porter County Fire Investigation Strike Team.
Two sheriff’s deputies, Wall’s wife and one or two neighbors also were in the house, at 617-4 W. County Road 650S, at the time of the crash. The back of the home, near the deck, caught fire after the crash.
The two deputies were taken to Porter Regional Hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation. Both were treated and released, LaFlower said, adding that one of them also suffered minor burns on his arm.
The wife complained of pain from the apparent attack but had no obvious injuries.
Fire trucks and police vehicles lined County Road 650S near the house Tuesday morning. Firefighters from Lakes of the Four Seasons, Lowell, Boone Grove, Hebron and Kouts were among those responding to the fire.
Wall was on leave from the fire department after the first incident with his wife and had sought mental health counseling. What the latest incident means for his career with the department remains unclear.
“I know very little about this other than what I’m reading in the newspaper. I don’t have anything to add,” said Thomas Castle, president of Hobart Professional Firefighters Local 1641.
Hobart Councilman P. Lino Maggio, D-3rd, who sits on the fire commission board, said it was a sad story.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. I especially worry about his kids,” Maggio said.
He said Wall, a battalion chief who has been with the Hobart Fire Department for almost 20 years, was at the top of the list to be the new chief when his personal problems surfaced.
“He could have been chief of the Hobart Fire Department. I think he would have been chief of the Hobart Fire Department,” Maggio said.
Mayor Brian Snedecor would not say whether Wall was in line to be fire chief.
“Any time something like this happens, it’s tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with the family,” Snedecor said. “He was one that the rank and file felt should be considered for the position. He’s held in high regard with the rank and file for his knowledge of the job and operational abilities.”
The scene at the Hebron home began to unfold sometime Monday night, LaFlower said, when the wife, sleeping on the couch, woke up because a man was choking her. She recognized the man as Wall and was able to calm him and the two talked until the morning, when she asked him to leave before their children woke up. The children were at school at the time of the fire.
The woman called the sheriff’s department around 7 a.m. Tuesday to report the alleged battery. While the deputies and neighbors were at the home with the wife, Wall drove the minivan into the back of the home.
The state fire marshal was expected to inspect the scene Tuesday to determine if the fire was caused by the van or if Wall set the blaze, LaFlower said.
When officers went outside after the crash, Wall was out of the van and asked deputies to shoot him, and after that, “he jumps back into the burning vehicle,” LaFlower said.
Wall then fled the van a second time, and the two deputies on the scene had to smother flames on his body.
According to the Porter County Sheriff’s Department report, on Nov. 23, the 41-year-old victim told Wall she wanted a separation, although they still lived together at that time.
Wall allegedly attacked his wife and threatened her with a gun. Sheriff’s deputies confiscated his weapons, LaFlower said, and, as required by law, requested a 10-day protective order to keep Wall from his wife. A judge extended that order, and it was still in effect Tuesday.
Wall was taken into custody after undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital.
After that incident, Wall was charged with intimidation, a Class C felony; criminal recklessness and pointing a firearm, both Class D felonies; and misdemeanor domestic battery.
Post-Tribune correspondent Karen Caffarini contributed to this report.