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Fire Chief suspended after trying to get one of “my guys” out of DUI arrest

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Mary Freda

The Times, Munster, Ind.

The town’s top firefighter is facing suspension after he attempted to intervene with a local police agency after another firefighter was arrested on drunken driving charges, authorities said.

Effective Monday, Cedar Lake Fire Chief Todd Wilkening will serve a one-week suspension without pay after he asked why a Lowell police officer was working an impaired-driving enforcement checkpoint in Cedar Lake and arresting “my guys,” police records allege.

Earlier this year, Cedar Lake volunteer firefighter Jeremy Kuiper was arrested and pleaded guilty to reckless driving after he was pulled over by a Lowell police officer for running a red light and later was found to be intoxicated, authorities allege.

Town Council President Randy Niemeyer said the council and the town’s safety board recently were made aware of the incident.

“The council and Public Safety Board have decided that due to the evidence provided to us and by interviewing Chief Wilkening, Chief Wilkening will be suspended for one week without pay,” Niemeyer said in an email. ” The Town Council is still deliberating about the totality of disciplinary action to be taken against Mr. Kuiper.”

Later in the email, Niemeyer said the police report speaks for itself.

“We expect our public servants to behave in a professional manner whether on or off duty,” he said. “I commend the Lowell police officer who was working the DUI grant on the evening of Jan. 23-24 for helping to keep the streets of Cedar Lake safe for everyone.”

Niemeyer later told The Times that because Kuiper is a volunteer firefighter, any disciplinary action would have to come from Wilkening.

“When he returns from his suspension, he will have to deal with what he does with Mr. Kuiper,” Niemeyer said.

Wilkening did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.

Failed sobriety tests

At about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 24, Lowell police Cpl. Aaron Crawford was working a DUI patrol in Cedar Lake when he saw a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado disregard a red light at Morse Street, a police report states.

As the vehicle passed Crawford’s squad car, the officer pulled behind the Chevrolet and activated his emergency lights. The pickup truck continued southbound “for a short distance” before pulling over in the 14300 block of Morse Street, according to the report.

Crawford then approached the truck and discovered a male driver and a “strong odor” of alcohol, police reports state.

After hearing why he was stopped, the driver, later identified as Kuiper, 39, of Cedar Lake, told Crawford, “I didn’t think so, but OK,” police said.

While attempting to give Crawford his license and vehicle registration, Kuiper sifted through a stack of papers from his glove compartment multiple times, passing two registrations for the car, before handing Crawford an insurance card for the truck, police allege.

Kuiper told Crawford he had left a local bar and was heading home, according to police reports.

While Crawford spoke with Kuiper, he noticed Kuiper’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, his face was flushed, his speech was slurred and he appeared to be slow and clumsy, police said.

Kuiper told the police officer he had about three drinks, and it had been about an hour since his last drink, police reports state.

‘Call the chief’

After using his door for balance to get out of his truck, Kuiper failed three field sobriety tests, police said.

A portable breath test showed Kuiper had a 0.177% breath-alcohol concentration, police records show.

Upon hearing the results, Kuiper said, “Oh, whoa,” and asked if he could “go off the record for a minute,” after Crawford explained the consequences should Kuiper take and pass, fail or refuse an alcohol breath test.

Officer Crawford told Kuiper he could “say whatever he wanted, but everything said was on the record.”

Kuiper asked if he could leave his truck parked at the scene and be picked up, which Crawford said wasn’t an option before again asking Kuiper if he wanted to submit to an alcohol breath test.

Kuiper responded, “I just want to go home,” according to the police reports.

Kuiper was then handcuffed and placed in the back of Crawford’s car before being taken to the Lowell Police Department, police said.

While on his way to the police station, Kuiper received a phone call, which he answered on his Apple Watch, police said.

During the conversation, Kuiper said, “I’m going to the Lowell Police Department, I’m in trouble, call the chief, hurry up,” police records state.

Cedar Lake Fire Chief Wilkening later arrived at the Lowell Police Department with another man and requested information “as to why a Lowell Police Department officer was working a grant in Cedar Lake and arresting ‘my guys,'” according to the police report.

Wilkening also said he would have liked for Kuiper to have been given a “professional courtesy.”

At the Lowell Police Department, Kuiper submitted to two breath tests, one of which returned a 0.131%, and the second returned a 0.142%.

In Indiana, the legal level of intoxication is .08% or higher.

Kuiper was booked and charged with reckless driving, operating while intoxicated and operating while intoxicated with at least .08% concentration, but less than 0.15%, court records show.

In late February, Kuiper pleaded guilty to reckless driving in the matter, court records state.

All other charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, and Kuiper’s 60-day jail sentence was suspended on the condition he serve six months on probation and take court-approved drug and alcohol counseling, according to his plea agreement.

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