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Coroner identifies victim in fatal crash involving IMPD officer, investigation continues

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 25, 2015) - The investigation continues after an off-duty IMPD officer struck and killed a pedestrian in his department-issued car. Police believe the officer may have been under the influence and a supervisor at the scene smelled alcohol on his breath. The off-duty officer involved in the deadly crash was later identified as Bernardo Zavalza, a seven-year veteran of IMPD assigned to the Northwest District.

The victim was identified Friday night as Ronny Bowling, 53. The cause of death was ruled as multiple blunt force trauma.

An anonymous 911 caller reported a person walking in the roadway in the area of East Southport Road and I-65. IMPD officers responded the area around 11:50 p.m. on Thursday to look for the individual. Four minutes later the Zavalza notified communications that he had struck a pedestrian on Southport Road between Emerson Avenue and I-65. He was driving a marked IMPD vehicle at the time.

An IMPD supervisor was dispatched to the scene where he requested the Fatal Alcohol Crash Team and Special Investigations Unit. The off-duty officer was transported to Eskenazi Hospital for a blood draw. Department policy states an employee faces dismissal is he or she operates a city-owned vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.02.

Officials with the police department stressed the investigation was done according to new protocol that was put in place after the David Bisard case. In 2010 officer Bisard killed one person and injured two others while driving his patrol car. He was convicted of drunk driving in addition to other charges.

Officials say a supervisor is now immediately called on all accidents involving police. If no obvious signs of intoxication are noticed, a breath test is administered. If that supervisor notices any signs of intoxication, like Thursday night, then a DUI investigator is called.

"I think that more needs to be done but what I tell family members and people that are closely associated with first responders across the nation is take investment in your loved one, make sure that they’re getting the support that they need," said Troy Riggs, former Indianapolis Public Safety Director.

Last fall officials in the Public Safety Department pushed to change the termination policy for IMPD and give greater power to discipline or fire employees before legal proceedings are completed.

"The merit law is still being negotiated," said Dept. of Public Safety Deputy Director Bryan Roach. "The Chief's ability to fire (an officer) is not being changed, however, and the current process will continue."

As of Friday afternoon police had not released the results of Zavalza's blood alcohol test.

Representatives with Mothers Against Drunk Driving have been meeting with IMPD officials over the past couple of weeks. MADD Indiana is has also been involved in a national conversation to get more help and resources to first responders.

"It’s very shocking and it’s very sad I think it’s really difficult to understand why these officers would do that knowing they are an enforcer of the law and they should be out there serving and protecting us, however, I think that they are individuals too. They are capable of making bad decisions too as well as anyone else," said MADD Indiana's Lael Hill when asked about previous officers convicted of this crime.

Hill also provided the following statement:

While we cannot comment on the pending charges regarding the recent investigation with the alleged incident with IMPD, we would like victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving, and anyone who’s been emotionally devastated by these crimes to know they are not alone.  MADD provides Victim Services free of charge to victims through our 24-hour Victim Help Line (1-877-MADD-HELP), online at madd.org, and locally through MADD Indiana.

The Fraternal Order of Police released the following statement:

"Our organization does not have any involvement in the matter from last night and therefore we cannot speak to the investigation that continues. However, anytime a life is lost, it is a tragedy. We like many, pray for all those affected."