Saturday, February 03, 2001

Guard dies, 4 injured in prison van crash

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MOUNT STERLING, Ohio — A slick road and heavy snow are blamed for the crash of a state prison van Friday that killed a 54-year-old guard from Lebanon and injured two other officers and two inmates.

        Correction Officer Wayne Mitchell, who had worked at Warren Correctional Institution since 1989, was pronounced dead at the scene after the van crashed into a concrete bridge support on northbound Interstate 71 at Ohio 56 in Madison County just before 8:30 a.m. Officer Mitchell was a passenger in the van.

        No other vehicles were involved in the crash, about 25 miles southwest of Columbus on what police described as a desolate stretch of highway.

        The prison van was on a routine trip from the correctional institution outside Lebanon to Ohio State Uni versity Medical Center in Columbus, where the inmates were to receive medical care, corrections officials said.

        Warren Correctional Institution, which has about 1,300 inmates, is a close-security prison — a step below maximum security. The state prison system contracts with OSU for inmate treatment.

        “Our preliminary investigation indicates it was weather-related. It was real inclement at the time,” said Lt. Shawn Lee of the West Jefferson post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

        “Other than that, we don't know at this point. It's still under investigation.”

        Survivors of the crash were taken to Columbus hospitals by helicopter and ambulance.

        The most seriously injured was Correction Officer Douglas W. Scrivner, 27, of Fairfield, in critical condition in intensive care at OSU Medical Center.

        Also hurt were:

        • Richard Lake Jr., a 40-year-old guard from Lebanon who was driving the van, in fair condition at Grant Medical Center.

        • Inmate Jacob R. Reeder, 57, of Clinton County, a convicted sex offender, in fair condition at OSU Medical Center.

        • Inmate Thomas L. Neville, 40, of Columbiana County, serving time for burglary, also in fair condition at OSU Medical Center.

        Lt. Lee said the van went off the left side of the road and into a spin. The passenger side slammed into the bridge abutment.

        Richard Jesko, a spokesman for the correctional institution, said there was nothing to suggest that weather had not caused the crash.

        He said the van left the prison at 7:12 a.m., headed for OSU.

        News of Officer Mitchell's death cast a pall over the prison.

        “It's pretty somber. We liken it to losing a member of our family. It's shock,” said Mr. Jesko, his voice breaking.

        Mr. Jesko said Officer Mitchell, who had worked at Dayton Correctional Institution for three years before transferring to Warren, was commended by the director of the state prison system in 1988 for helping save the life of an inmate who overdosed in a suicide attempt.

        Officer Mitchell's job for the last 18 months was to transport prisoners.

        Before that, he checked packages sent to inmates for contraband and was recognized by the warden in 1992 for discovering marijuana and pills in a hollowed-out beef sausage, Mr. Jesko said.


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