FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –Thomas Tippman was sentenced Friday to a four-year prison term for an ORV accident that claimed the life of his wife, Suzanne.
Tippman, now 52, was charged in March 2022 with a Level 4 felony OWI causing death. The incident occurred Feb. 5, 2022 around 12:30 a.m. on private property off Flutter Road.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull and Allen County deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred said the fatal ORV incident wasn’t an accident because accidents occur when circumstances are outside the control of the individuals involved.
Tippmann was driving the high-powered off road vehicle with a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit of .08% – and nobody, including Suzanne – was restrained.
In court, Mildred had a conservation officer from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources testify who described the pond ice as “very unstable,” with some spots on the ice “exceptionally melted.”
The ORV Tippmann was driving had the capability of going up to 65 mph, Mildred said, and it was a vehicle that needed an experienced driver, which Tippmann was. Tippmann was allegedly doing “donuts” when his wife was ejected from the ORV. There were no defects in the door, according to a DNR investigation.
Investigators believed Tippman was performing a left-turn donut on the ice when the right side wheels broke through the top layer of ice and the ORV dropped into a layer of slush.
Gull received 80 letters of support and, at the sentencing, about 100 people packed the courtroom. They included Tippman’s eight children, his siblings, Suzanne’s siblings, cousins, family and friends and Father Jacob Runyon, pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, who said he was Tippmann’s close cousin.
They begged Gull to let Tippmann do his time at Allen County Community Corrections or on home detention. Four of his eight children are still at home; three of them have not reached adulthood.
Tippmann himself stood up to say “let me be home with my kids,” because he needed to provide for them and “be there for them every day.”
The outpouring for Tippmann wasn’t enough to dissuade Gull from sending Tippmann to prison, even though he has no prior criminal history, she said. She also noted that Tippmann did plead guilty and took full responsibility for the accident.
But other things upset her, she said. Gull called his blood alcohol level “astonishing,” and she referenced troubling text messages he sent while at the hospital where his wife was taken. Those were not read in court.
“This is no accident, sir. An accident is something that happens to us outside our control,” Gull said. Later, she told him it wasn’t her job to decide what was best for his children.
As friends and family sat there stunned at the sentence, the bailiffs walked over to Tippmann. Speaking with his attorney, Randall Hammond, Tippmann then turned and nodded to all of them and walked out with the bailiffs, leaving them to gather outside in the hallway and Allen County Courthouse to cry, hug and console each other.