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South Bend chief to recommend firing officer involved in fatal crash

Erica Flores died on July 20 when Gorney's patrol car collided with her vehicle in the intersection of Western Avenue and Kaley Street. // WSBT 22 Photo

Doing the right thing. That's what community leaders say South Bend's police chief is doing in recommending a police officer be fired.

This comes two weeks after a grand jury decided not to file reckless homicide charges against Officer Justin Gorney. He's the officer involved in a crash that killed 22-year-old Erica Flores, a young mother of two.

Flores supporters say this sends a strong message. They say it's proof that the community is being listened to, but there's still work that needs to be done to stop something like this from happening in the future.

Gorney hit and killed Flores in the crash at Western and Kaley back in July. The incident devastated the community, prompting protests and cries for justice.

“We want to see change happen,” said Jesusa Rivera, community leader. “I know Soraida, Erica’s sister, has said very loud and clear we don’t want this to happen again. It could happen to one of your family members. And it’s not about the money, it’s about the justice that’s being served.”

Gorney was responding to a call of a reckless driver swerving in and out of traffic. An attorney for the Flores family gave us a copy of video that captured the violent crash. It shows the officer's light were on before the wreck, but the same attorney says Gorney was traveling 90 miles an hour and began to brake only three-tenths of a second before the crash.

He also says there's no way of knowing when the officer activated his lights or if the police siren was on.

“Accidents do not happen purposely,” said Rivera. “There are rules put in place and those rules were not followed.”

Chief Scott Ruszkowski is making the recommendation to terminate Gorney at the next Board of Public Safety meeting.

Gorney is planning the file an appeal.

Community leaders say the family has received a lot of support.

“The community recognizes that this is about the little girls that were left behind,” said Luis Zapata. “It’s about the family that lost a member. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Latina, any color or race, we lost a member of this community.”

The following statement was issued by the South Bend mayor’s office:

“The Chief of Police has moved for the termination of Officer Gorny, and the Officer has requested a hearing. Now the case goes before the Board of Public Safety, which is composed of five civilian members from South Bend. The Board is entrusted to listen to all sides of discipline cases brought before them and make decisions based on the evidence presented. They know the importance of handling this case, and every case, with thoroughness, fairness, and integrity.”

After the Board of Public Safety accepts the chief's letter and Gorney's appeal, a hearing will be set. The five-person board will need to reach a majority vote on the matter.

A gathering showing support for Flores and her family is happening Monday at the County-City Building.

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