Police: Man injures eight people in drunk driving escapade

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A series of early morning wrecks in South Bend sent nine people to Memorial Hospital. Now, one man is behind bars for his alleged sole involvement.

A swarm of officers, firefighters and paramedics were called out to a chain of accidents in the 1600 block of W. Western Ave. around 3:50 a.m. Sunday.

According to crash investigators, a silver Lincoln sedan was speeding westbound on Western Ave. when it hit a car turning onto the four lane roadway, injuring three people who refused medical care.

Instead of stopping, the over-sized Lincoln fled the scene, continuing westbound along Western Ave. A few blocks later, it rear-ended a Pontiac sedan, which was also traveling westbound. That impact forced the Pontiac into both eastbound lanes.

The Pontiac's driver, Lakiesha Gray, 25, of Benton Harbor, was taken to the hospital for minor head and leg injuries. Her passenger, Jonaca Seuell, 26, also of Benton Harbor, was transported for minor head, leg and back injuries. Both have since been treated and released.

The Lincoln then veered toward the curb and ran over three male pedestrians walking out of the American Veterans Post 66 Lounge.

One of the pedestrians was pinned underneath the vehicle. Several bystanders ran to his aid. Together they lifted the silver Lincoln to rescue the injured man, Darnell Starr Sr., 28, of South Bend. Starr Sr. was taken to Memorial Hospital in critical condition with multiple leg and head fractures.

Michael Sullivan was working as a security guard for American Vets Post 66 when the crashes took place. He said he asked bystanders to help him lift the car off Starr.

"It didn't look well at all," Sullivan said. "There was a lot of blood and the gentlemen didn't seem responsive. Then, he moved a little bit. So, I knew he was still living."

About twenty witnesses joined forces to lift the car, according to police. Their efforts allowed paramedics to treat Starr faster, Lt. Gene Eyster said.

Eyster said that as of Monday afternoon Starr was stable and alert.

Police say the driver of the silver Lincoln, Christopher Swanson, 44, of South Bend, then ran from the third crash scene. Responding South Bend officers caught him in the 400 block of Pulaski St., about two blocks away.

Swanson was treated for minor head injuries at Memorial Hospital and later arrested. He’s been preliminarily charged with Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Resulting in Serious Injury – Felony, Leaving the Scene of an Injury Accident – Felony, Operating While Under the Influence – Misdemeanor and Resisting Law Enforcement – Misdemeanor.

Officers have obtained a warrant to test a blood sample from Swanson for alcohol or other substances. They are also working to get a search warrant for his car.

Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to contact the St. Joseph County Fatal Alcohol Crash Team at: (574) 259-2966

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