NEWTON FALLS, Ohio (WKBN) – Charges have been filed against Newton Falls’ police chief and a former sheriff’s deputy, alleging dereliction of duty after a crash that killed a woman in 2020.
According to the complaint filed Friday in Newton Falls Municipal Court, the charges against Gene Fixler and Dallas Young stem from an incident on Dec. 2, 2020. The complaint alleges that they failed to stop someone from driving under the influence, resulting in the death of another individual.
The charges were filed by Prosecutor Chris Crull based on the knowledge that he gained from an investigative report from the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office. Following that investigative report, Young resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in lieu of termination, according to Trumbull County Sheriff Paul Monroe and Major Jeff Palmer.
According to records acquired by WKBN last year, Young had responded to a call for a man sleeping in his SUV at a Leavittsburg gas station on Dec 2.
That man, identified as 28-year-old Michael Haehner, of Ravenna, caused a fatal crash that left himself and another driver dead in Portage County later that day.
According to a police report from the Newton Falls Police Department, Chief Fixler responded to the call first, thinking it may be a stolen dumped vehicle. When he got there, Fixler told dispatch that he found Haehner sleeping in the passenger seat of the SUV.
While waiting for Young to arrive, the report said Fixler spoke with a store clerk who told him the man in the SUV was “pretty messed up” and almost walked into the gas station windows.
When Young arrived, Fixler assisted him in ordering Haehner out of the vehicle. According to the report, Haehner was steady on his feet, had clear speech and told them that he was just sleeping.
The police report said Haehner answered questions without hesitation and seemed like he wasn’t impaired.
Sergeant Stephen Storm then arrived on the scene and Fixler reported seeing a dirty syringe on the ground, about four feet in front of Haehner, the report said. When asked about it, Haehner told investigators it wasn’t his.
The police report said Young, who was wearing gloves, picked up the syringe and placed it in a safe container from his vehicle.
Fixler reported stepping away to answer a text message and saw Haehner drive away. According to the report, Young felt Haehner wasn’t impaired so he let him leave with the vehicle.
Shortly after, Haehner was driving westbound on State Route 82 in Windham Township when he traveled over the center line and into the eastbound lane.
He hit Tammy Bortz, of Windham, who was driving in the eastbound lane, causing her car to overturn.
Both drivers died at the scene.
Toxicology tests found fentanyl in Haehner’s bloodstream during the autopsy.
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol crash report, state troopers at the Ravenna Post found out on Dec. 3 that the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office made contact with Haehner just before the crash.
Records obtained by WKBN last year in relation to a probe of the incident alleged that Young violated procedures by improperly disposing of evidence and that the service call wasn’t thoroughly investigated.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation had been investigating the incident and as of Tuesday, a spokesperson said that investigation was still open. The spokesperson said he could not share any updates on that investigation.
Fixler issued the following statement to WKBN on Tuesday:
“I’m totally shocked. There’s no two ways about it, that I think it’s very clear and obvious as to why these were brought against me given they’ve tried everything else to prevent me from returning as the police chief to do my job for the community. State agencies have looked at this in the past and found no cause for anything. How ironic on the date that the statue of limitations would run out they find this to file.”Gene Fixler
WKBN also reached out to Young but has yet to hear back.