Judge sentences Abram to 8 years

A Muncie driver accused of causing a fatal crash in Bartholomew County while he had a blood alcohol level three-and-a-half times above the legal limit was sentenced Thursday in Bartholomew Superior Court 2.

In court, Marcus A. Abram, 28, of Muncie, admitted his responsibility for the death of Heather Wallace, 40, of Indianapolis. The fatal crash on Jan. 1, 2022, occurred along Interstate 65, just north of the Bartholomew-Jackson County line.

Last February, Abram agreed to admit his guilt in a plea bargain to causing death while operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), a Level 4 felony. In return, the prosecution dropped the lesser charge of OWI with a prior conviction, a Level 6 felony.

Abram accepted a plea that allowed Judge Jon Rohde to determine the sentence, but the plea bargain capped the amount of executed prison time at no more than eight years.

Although Rohde agreed to eight years executed, the judge added two additional years of probation. He explained his reason was to try to ensure a smooth transition that will prevent Abram from resuming drinking immediately after his release. If the defendant does relapse while on probation, Abram will serve two extra years in prison, the judge said.

Details regarding the fatal accident were outlined in a probable cause affidavit written by Deputy Grant Carlson of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

The investigator wrote that in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2022, Wallace pulled off into the grassy median of northbound I-65 after telling her boyfriend she was too tired to continue driving from Louisville, Kentucky to Indianapolis.

The boyfriend got out the front passenger door to walk around the vehicle, but Wallace chose to crawl over the middle console to switch seats, the affidavit stated. As she was crawling into the passenger seat, Abram’s 2015 Mazda crashed into the rear of Wallace’s car at a speed estimated at between 95 to 100 miles per hour, deputy prosecutor Mathew Taylor said.

The impact caused Wallace’ vehicle to spin into a 180-degree turn, coming to rest while straddling the middle line, Carlson wrote. Moments later, her vehicle was struck by a third vehicle, driven by a Pennsylvania woman, the deputy added.

Wallace was thrown from the vehicle after the second crash and pronounced dead at the scene, according to the affidavit. The Pennsylvania woman sustained four broken ribs while her son complained of chest pain. Wallace’s boyfriend suffered minor injuries.

Abram declined to be tested, but a blood sample was taken while the defendant was undergoing medical treatment for his own injuries, according to court documents.

In explaining his sentence, Rohde cited earlier arrests that began with a marijuana-related crime in 2013, an operating while intoxicated arrest for driving with a blood alcohol level of .15 or greater and illegal consumption in Muncie City Court. After Abram completed a diversion program, the charges were expunged from his record.

In June of 2017, the defendant was charged with OWI while endangering a person, and driving while under the influence of a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 substance. He was sentenced this time to a suspended one-year sentence by a Muncie judge.

Testifying on his own behalf Thursday, Abram said he took the drug Xanax, normally prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks, but when taken with alcohol, it can create serious, life-threatening side effects.

“I’m a full-blown alcoholic” said Abram said, who told the court he has been drinking with frequency since age 15.

Hours before the crash, Abram was in Nashville, Tennessee with a friend to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but the defendant testified he was angry that his companion left him behind in a hotel room. After drinking a half-pint of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey (16.5% alcohol), he got into his vehicle and stranded his companion by driving north to return to Indiana, he told the court. Abram said he drank Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey (45% alcohol) during the drive while consistently crying over the recent loss of a girlfriend.

Abram claims he was distracted by either pushing a stereo button or by reaching down to pick an item up from the floorboard when his car smashed into the back of the victim’s vehicle in the median.

Wallace’s mother, Paula Wallace of Corydon, was in tears as she described her daughter as “the glue that held her family together.” The victim’s mother also said she lost the light of her life to Abram’s ugliness, selfishness and unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions.

Also reading an impact statement was the victim’s brother, Paul Porter. He described Marcus as a ticking time bomb who will, sooner or later, take his own life.

“Please remove this self-destructive tumor from society, so nobody else will have to go through what we did,” Porter asked the judge.

When asked to speak to the victim’s family, Abram replied the cause of the accident was pure alcohol addiction.

“I’ll always be an alcoholic, but I don’t need treatment anymore,” the defendant told the court.

Instead, Abram said physical workouts and attending church has provided him with what he needed to stay sober during the past nine months.

“I know you won’t believe me if I say it will never happen again,” Abram told the victim’s family. “I don’t know what else to do but kill myself. But since I’m not going to do that, I have to improve my life to make up for the loss of another life.”

Although the judge said he’s glad Abram has found a way to keep away from alcohol, Rohde also said it’s tragic that he had to take another person’s life to finally embrace sobriety.

“It’s really too little, too late,” said the judge, who also suspended Abram’s driver’s license for 12 years.

If Abram is receptive to alcohol treatment and remains well-behaved in prison, Rohde said he will consider modifying the sentence. However, the judge said he won’t consider the matter until after the defendant spends at least six years behind bars.