NEWTON FALLS, Ohio (WKBN) — A dereliction of duty charge has been dismissed against a former local police chief during a status hearing on Wednesday.
The charge against Gene Fixler was filed in Newton Falls Municipal Court in December. Fixler worked as chief of the Newton Falls Police Department before he was fired and later reinstated by court order. The police department then disbanded in January in favor of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office taking over policing duties.
The charge stemmed from a crash that killed a woman in 2020.
The complaint in the case alleged that Fixler, along with former deputy Dallas Young, failed to stop someone from driving under the influence, resulting in the death of another individual.
The charge against Young was also dismissed in June, citing Garrity violations. Garrity Rights protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews conducted by their employers.
The charges against Young had been filed by Prosecutor Chris Crull based on the knowledge 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 in 2021, Young had responded to a call for a man sleeping in his SUV at a Leavittsburg gas station on Dec 2, 2020.
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, Fixler responded to the call first and 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, 2020, 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.
WKBN previously spoke to Fixler who said he questioned a “significant time gap” between when Haehner drove off from the BP station and the time of the crash, saying he could have taken drugs between that time period. He defended their actions, saying that Haehner didn’t seem impaired when he was with them.
Fixler later criticized the charges against him, saying the incident had previously been reviewed by state agencies that found no issues.
Fixler’s charge was dismissed at the state’s cost.
Patty Coller contributed to this report.