Indiana pumpkin-chucker still at large after third vehicle hit from overpass
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Two weeks after Halloween, the tricks keep coming from one northwest Indiana overpass — with deadly potential.
Indiana State Police are trying to carve out a trail to the person who has tossed pumpkins onto vehicles passing through a rural stretch of the Interstate 80/90 Toll Road in LaPorte County, with three separate nighttime lobs in the last week.
“Throughout the ages, smashing pumpkins has been a seasonal prank,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Ted Bohner said. “But when you’re dropping it off an overpass like this, it becomes a matter of life and death.”
The LaPorte pumpkin-chucker’s latest strike hit a 64-year-old woman in the head about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday while she was driving east at the Goldring Road overpass, about five miles east of the Michigan City exit, according to Indiana State Police.
“This was a direct shot right through the windshield,” Bohner said.
Only seeds and pulp were left in the aftermath, but Bohner estimated the pumpkin was “about your standard jack-o’-lantern-type size,” Bohner said.
The Michigan woman at the wheel ended up in the ditch and didn’t know what had hit her when she called 911, according to Center Township Fire Chief Marc Christiano.
“I figured she’d hit a deer,” Christiano said. “This is the first time I’ve seen this, and I’ve been here 25 years.”
She suffered a few cuts and declined a trip to the hospital.
“We are extremely lucky that we’re only talking about minor injuries,” Bohner said. “If we were talking about a rock, or a frozen pumpkin, we could easily be talking about a fatality.”
The latest pumpkin projectile fits the pattern of two other incidents since Nov. 7.
Pumpkins took out the windshield of a box truck a few nights earlier at the same overpass, as well as the windshield of a semi in the “same general area” of the Toll Road the same week. The driver in that case kept trucking to a service plaza and wasn’t sure if it happened at Goldring Road, Bohner said.
All three pumpkins have been chucked between about 8:45 p.m. and midnight. Pitch-black conditions and the isolated area have dashed hopes of tracking down witnesses.
“It’s basically out in the country. Cornfields,” Christiano said.
Fences spanning the Goldring overpass mean the pumpkin perp either climbed up to make the roughly 20-foot drop, or timed the toss just right.
“It took a lot of effort,” Bohner said.
The crime of “overpass mischief” is a felony in Indiana, carrying a penalty of up to 12 years in prison.
It’s not a common occurrence in the area, Bohner said, but cases in other states have drawn national attention. Four Ohio teenagers pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year for dropping a sandbag from a Toledo overpass, killing a 22-year-old man.
During a rash of Chicago-area incidents in 1988, a South Side man returning home from a hunting trip was decapitated by a square-foot piece of concrete that was hurled from the Stuenkel Road overpass on I-57 near Monee. A 20-year-old man received a four-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, the Chicago Sun-Times reported then.
And in 1981, Vietnam veteran Jose Hernandez, who had moved to Indiana to avoid Chicago violence, was killed by a concrete block dropped from an overpass on I-65 south of Merrillville. A 16-year-old boy received a five-year prison sentence after his arrest and conviction.
Anyone with information on the recent Indiana cases is asked to call police at (574) 286-2931.