Surgery Delays Murder Trial, Prompts Reevaluation of Jail Medical Contract

  A murder trial scheduled to start April 13 in Starke Circuit Court has been pushed back to at least July so the defendant can have surgery deemed medically necessary by a provider under contract with the county. Gary Chavez is accused of beating his estranged wife, Kimberly Chavez, to death at their rural California Township home last June. From there police say he drove to Mark Bailey’s Discount Center, kidnapped an employee and drove to English Lake where he’s accused of stealing a second vehicle. Chavez then led police on a high-speed chase into LaPorte and Porter Counties, according to court records. He’s accused of stealing a third vehicle in Kouts and continuing into Lake County. Police there say Chavez shot himself in the face when officers in Crown Point managed to stop his vehicle. He was airlifted to a Chicagoland area hospital and released to the custody of the Starke County Sheriff last August. Chavez remains in jail.

During a March pretrial conference, attorneys for the state and Chavez both assured Starke Circuit Judge Kim Hall any additional medical procedures could wait until after his trial. Last week a nurse practitioner from Quality Correctional Care, LLC testified during another pretrial conference that Chavez needs to have surgery immediately and told the judge a procedure is scheduled for April 15 in Fort Wayne. Chavez will be hospitalized for two weeks afterward. Starke County Sheriff Bill Dulin told the commissioners he doesn’t have the budget or manpower to provide security for Chavez while he’s hospitalized.

Commissioner Kathy Norem reviewed the county’s contract with Quality Correctional Care and notes it can be canceled with 30 days notice. She asked Dulin to start looking immediately for another vendor to provide medical services for inmates. Dulin told the commissioners the sheriff’s department has already driven more than 2,000 miles and expended 52 man hours transporting Chavez to and from medical appointments. He added Chavez has to remain in the county’s custody until and unless he is convicted.