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Posted on Sat. Feb. 02, 2013 - 12:15 am EDT

No prison for woman in fatal hit-skip

Drunk when bar patron hit, but charged only with leaving scene

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FORT WAYNE — Those who came to support Anissa Northrup on Friday spoke of a 33-year-old single mother of two boys who helped coach Little League in place of their absent father.

They talked about a woman who took on the role of a den mother in Cub Scouts and who, whenever her friends needed her, would drop everything to baby-sit their children.

And then there were those who came to tell about whom they lost.

They spoke of a 26-year-old music connoisseur named Nathan Gatchall, a man who loved life and who did anything and everything for his friends and family.

They spoke of how crushing it was for someone like that to die so young, especially in the way he died – hit by Northrup’s minivan in the middle of Broadway at 2:45 one April morning.

Then, they watched as Northrup received no prison time.

Instead, she was given a four-year suspended prison sentence on one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident causing death and two misdemeanor counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

“Nobody can say that anything good happened on that street that night,” Allen Superior Court Judge John F. Surbeck said before sentencing Northrup. “And on the other hand, nobody can say anything evil happened, either.”

Northrup’s minivan struck Gatchall as he was either standing or crossing the street in the 1100 block of Broadway on April 15.

Minutes later, police pulled over Northrup’s vehicle – which had a heavily damaged hood and fender and was missing an entire headlamp – near her home in the area of Huffman Street and Franklin Avenue.

Her blood-alcohol content measured 0.22 percent, well above Indiana’s legal limit of 0.08 percent, and according to testimony Friday she at first told police she thought she had hit a pothole.

“I shouldn’t have heard that one,” said Matthew Smith, a cousin of the 6-foot-3 inch Gatchell, when he heard that line of reasoning. “That one hurt.”

Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred showed Surbeck photos of Northrup’s damaged minivan in an attempt to show how “preposterous” it was to think she had only hit a pothole.

He also produced a blood test that showed Northrup had been smoking marijuana at some point, to counterbalance the glowing picture her friends and family painted of her.

“She left (Gatchell) for dead without stopping to look,” said Mildred, who argued she deserved some type of time to serve, whether in a work program or otherwise.

In his sentencing, Surbeck made sure to remind everyone present that prosecutors never charged Northrup with causing Gatchell’s death.

She had been charged only with leaving the scene of an accident.

Northrup pleaded guilty late last year to all the charges against her without a set amount of prison time affixed to her plea agreement.

She also underwent drug-and-alcohol counseling without being mandated to do so, according to her defense attorney, Quintin Ellis.

Surbeck ordered Northrup to serve four years on probation, and her driver’s license will likely be suspended for about a year and a half.

He also spoke of the stigma Northrup will have to face after this conviction – she will not be able to partake in some activities with her sons, he said.

“It is clear to me that Nathan was an extraordinary person,” Surbeck said. “It’s also very clear to me that Ms. Northrup is not a bad person. She’s a flawed person, like most of us.”

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