Valpo woman, 26, dies in vehicle crash
By Erin Guerra Post-Tribune correspondent July 19, 2012 3:01PM
Updated: July 20, 2012 9:18AM
WESTVILLE — Katherine Atkins, 26, of Valparaiso, died Thursday and two children are hospitalized because the driver of another vehicle apparently sped while navigating a curve.
John Ray Mikle, 35, whom police believe lives in Michigan City but also has an Evansville address, is expected to face charges even if his drug and alcohol tests turn out clean, said Chief Deputy James Sosinski, of the LaPorte County Sheriff’s Department. Mikle is in critical condition at Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City.
The crash happened at about 7:30 a.m. on a sharp curve on Joliet Road east of Westville, about three-quarters of a mile west of Wozniak Road.
A driver who was behind Mikle’s westbound 1999 Mercury Mountaineer told police that after stopping at the stop sign at Wozniak Road, the SUV accelerated at a high speed. This witness fell behind and did not see the crash until he rounded the curve.
Police believe the Mountaineer crossed the center line and struck Atkins’s eastbound 1997 Honda Accord, Sosinski said. Both vehicles were thrown into a bean field, and Mikle’s SUV rolled once and landed on its side.
Mikle and Atkins were trapped, but Atkins died of multiple internal injuries before responders could extricate her, Sosinski said.
Three children were in Atkins’ vehicle. Neilah Maule, 7, and Jaidyn Maule, 5, are the daughters of her boyfriend and received serious injuries. Their cousin, Audrey Spitler, 5, did not appear injured, and her descriptions of what happened contributed to the ongoing police investigation;.
“She’s a very brave little girl,” Sosinski said.
When a medical helicopter could not respond because of the weather conditions, the sisters were taken to IU Health LaPorte hospital. Jaidyn was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for severe arm and leg fractures. Neilah was in surgery Thursday afternoon to relieve swelling and pressure on her brain. She also is expected to be transported to Riley Hospital once she is stable.
Although the weather was severe enough the medical helicopter could not fly, Sosinski said police don’t believe weather was a factor in the crash. Asked about Mikle’s driving record, Sosinski said it is “not very good,” although he had a valid license.