‘A senseless, tragic loss of life’: Sweet sentenced as habitual offender to 40 years in prison for neglect resulting in daughter’s death

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Jeremy Sweet apologizes to his ex wife and her family for causing the death of their 2-year-old daughter Emma Sweet during his change of plea and sentencing hearing in Bartholomew Superior Court 1 at the Bartholomew County Courthouse in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Sweet was sentenced as a habitual offender to 40 years in state prison for neglect in the death of his 2-year-old daughter Emma Sweet.

A Bartholomew County man who admits responsibility for his 2-year-old daughter’s death after his truck went into a river was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years to be served in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Jeremy Sweet, 41, of 1415 N. County Road 850E, entered a plea agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death as a Level 1 felony. Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge James Worton ordered Sweet to serve 30 years for that offense.

Worton also gave Sweet an additional 10 years for being a habitual offender, and ordered the two sentences be served consecutively. While Sweet admitted in court he is a drug addict, Worton said the defendant is ineligible for prison treatment programs due to the nature of his offenses.

In exchange for the guilty pleas, the office of Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay agreed to drop charges from two cases that include possession of methamphetamine, unlawful possession of a syringe and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent offender.

The habitual offender enhancement stems from being charged with 11 drug-related cases, mostly involving methamphetamine, since 2001, court officials said. Sweet has broken terms of his probation multiple times, Worton said.

When answering questions from Holden-Kay, Sweet kept his emotions in check until he had to admit in court he was responsible for the death of his daughter, Emma Sweet, during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2021.

That’s when his voice began to crack.

“There’s nothing I can say to change what has happened,” Sweet said as he wept. “But I swear to God on everything I love that I’m so sorry.”

“This was a chain of decisions that resulted in catastrophic consequences,” Worton said after sentencing Sweet. “It’s a senseless, tragic loss of life.”

On Nov. 25, 2021, the father and daughter were reported missing by Linsey Sweet, Jeremy’s now ex-wife and Emma’s mother. An investigation indicated Jeremy was last seen with Emma on Nov. 24, 2021 around 3:30 p.m. in his black 2017 Ford F150.

Four duck hunters came across Sweet’s pickup truck partially submerged in the East Fork White River southwest of Columbus at about 6 a.m. on Nov. 26. That’s according to a probable cause affidavit written by Detective Terrance Holderness of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office, as well as testimony given Tuesday by Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Abner.

As one hunter called 911, the others saw Jeremy Sweet asleep in the back seat of his truck, Holderness wrote. The hunters managed to get the semi-conscious Sweet out of the vehicle and help him to the shore.

When Deputy Sgt. Andrew Whipker talked to Sweet, he first asked where his daughter was. Initially, the defendant replied he dropped her off at Casey’s. But minutes later, Sweet admitted his daughter was with him when the truck went off a 15-to-20 foot embankment into the river and landed about 30 feet from shore, Abner testified.

Sweet told Abner he had unbuckled Emma from her car seat and brought her on the roof of the vehicle with him, the detective testified. But when he fell off into the river, he accidentally took his daughter into the water as well, Abner said.

The river was 3- to 5-feet deep where the pickup truck came to rest, the affidavit stated.

After arriving at Columbus Regional Hospital, Sweet provided more details to Detective Will Kinman of the sheriff’s office. Sweet claimed he got lost on a dirt road and his truck got stuck. He said that as he was rocking the F150 back and forth to move the truck, it went over the embankment.

Once he got his daughter back in the truck, Sweet said he took off the girl’s coat because it was wet, according to the affidavit. After the child began crying for her mother, Sweet said he placed her on the roof by herself to avoid pulling her into the river again, according to probable cause affidavits.

Sweet said the next thing he knew, he was waking up and Emma was gone, Holderness wrote. Investigators found one of the windshield wipers pulled up on the truck “as if someone had been hanging on it,” former Sheriff Matt Myers said during the search for the girl in 2021.

On the stand Tuesday, Abner said he found it hard to believe that Sweet got lost because the truck had a working GPS system, and the pickup had to drive down a mile-and-a-half of dirt and gravel before going over the embankment.

Further interviews by investigators indicate Sweet was with two friends at the Horseshoe Casino in Shelbyville all night long before returning to Barthlomew County on Thanksgiving Day. Abner said Sweet had admitted taking methamphetamine and smoking marijuana before heading to Shelbyville.

Upon their return from the casino, Sweet picked up Emma because the girl’s mother had to go to work. He and the toddler spent some time at the friend’s home before he gave the friend a ride to work at 3:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Based on timelines provided by witnesses, investigators believe the truck went over the embankment at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Holderness wrote.

Searches for the missing toddler continued until Emma’s body was found at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 28. She was located about 2 ½ miles downstream from the truck, caught in a debris-filled area in the river. An autopsy indicated the little girl died of complications from both hypothermia and asphyxiation, according to the coroner’s report.

“This was just so preventable,” Holden-Kay said after the sentencing. “I think it’s likely that, at 40 years, Mr. Sweet will spend, if not the rest of his days, most of the rest of his days in prison. I think that is appropriate under the circumstances that resulted in the death of a beautiful, young girl.”

To view video of the court proceedings, visit:

Video: Video: Jeremy Sweet is sentenced to 40 years and apologizes for death of his daughter