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Life lost, a second forever scarred

Year of prison set in reckless crash death


– Daniel Heffner didn’t see the moment medics brought Doris Bockius to the emergency room last year.

It was a sunny Easter afternoon, and he wasn’t there when Bockius’ daughter raced to her mother’s bedside, grabbed her hand and felt, despite the catastrophic injuries to the woman’s head and face, one final squeeze.

He certainly didn’t see her family gather around day after day and stare into the face of hopelessness.

He didn’t hear doctors tell them to prepare for the worse as she lingered in a coma, and Heffner did not see the agonizing moment, 10 days after her arrival, when Bockius’ family took her off life support.

He did not witness, as they did, her final breath.

“She was the most beautiful person,” said Bockius’ daughter, Vicki Bolach, who was there and did see those things.

“He doesn’t know. He has no idea what kind of person she was.”

But Heffner, a 19-year-old from Garrett, did have to appear in an Allen Superior courtroom Friday and listen to Bockius’ family recount those moments.

He sat, listened and, at times, cried as they described the 75-year-old woman he killed when he recklessly slammed his Cadillac into the back of a car Bockius was in, sending it flipping into a field along the side of the road.

“I’m sorry I can’t switch places with her,” he would later say through sobs.

Heffner was sentenced to serve one year in prison and another year on strict home detention for a charge of reckless homicide at the end of an hourlong hearing in which Bockius’ family talked about how her death has altered their lives.

The crash that killed Bockius occurred March 31, 2013, on Tonkel Road near the intersection with Schlatter Road.

Doris Bockius was in the car with her husband, Robert, who was driving and had the cruise control of his Chevy Impala set at 54 mph, just 1 mph under the speed limit.

Robert looked in his rearview mirror once, saw Heffner’s Cadillac behind him and thought: “That guy is really hustling.”

A moment later, the Cadillac struck the Impala from behind, causing it to flip several times before coming to a stop.

Doris Bockius was taken to a hospital in critical condition; her husband suffered a broken vertebra, broken ribs and lacerations to his face.

Heffner was taken to a hospital in good condition. He later told police he was reaching for a lighter and took his eyes off the road.

A Fort Wayne police officer who reconstructed the crash afterward calculated Heffner’s speed at a bare minimum of 86 mph.

“That day I lost my mother, my best friend, my whole life,” Steve Moore, Bockius’ son, told Judge John Surbeck.

“I’ll never get over it. I beg you to do whatever the law requires,” he implored the judge.

In February, Allen County prosecutors formally charged Heffner with reckless homicide.

By April, they offered him a plea agreement.

The plea agreement did not specify an amount of prison time he was to serve, but it called for his driver’s license to be suspended for five years and for him to pay restitution of nearly $300,000.

If he took it, prosecutors also said they’d file no additional charges in connection with the injuries Robert Bockius suffered.

Heffner signed it a week later.

His attorney and his uncle spoke on his behalf, saying that a young man who had been full of life, who loved making young children laugh and who always made people feel good about themselves, was now “defeated” and suffering from depression.

They said he and his family know the effect of what he did and that he understands how the death he caused will haunt him forever.

When it was his turn to speak, Heffner told Bockius’ family he thinks of her when he wakes up until the time he goes to bed at night.

“All I can ask for is forgiveness,” he told her family. “If someone forgives me, maybe I can start to forgive myself.”

While Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred called for Heffner to serve two years in prison, defense attorney Douglas Ulmer argued that his client could serve his time on house arrest or probation.

In meting out his punishment, Surbeck called the case one with no easy answer.

He said he believed Heffner’s sincerity in accepting responsibility for what he had done; still, a life had been lost.

And no matter how much time he handed down in sentencing, it would not be enough.

“I’ve found in cases like this nobody can leave the courtroom comfortable,” Surbeck said.

He said Heffner must serve some prison time, so he sentenced him to one year in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Surbeck then ordered him to serve five years’ probation, the first year of which will be on home detention.

Heffner will be strictly monitored during that year, Surbeck noted.

Heffner was also ordered to pay more than $298,000 in restitution, a debt his attorney said he cannot get out of in any way.

“The illusion of a consequence-free life ended for Daniel that day,” Ulmer said.