Thursday, October 10, 2002

Driver, 17, punished for fatal accident




By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON — Following an emotional hearing Wednesday, a Butler County judge took away the license of a teenage driver who admitted responsibility for a 100-mph fatal crash and ordered him to spend several months in a rehabilitation center.

The June 11 crash on Interstate 75 in Liberty Township happened amid a spate of serious wrecks involving teen drivers.

The 17-year-old from West Chester Township dabbed at tears with a tissue as he listened to others describe the crash's impact on their lives:

Lois and Lawrence Ferry of Cincinnati had a victims' advocate read their statements expressing heartbreak over loss of their son, Stephen, 18, who was thrown from the car's backseat and killed.

A passenger in the car, Jamie Buchanan, 18, of West Chester, suffered brain injuries that put her into a coma. “I would've taken Steve's place if I could,” she said. “My emotions and my injuries can be repaired, but Steve's can't be.” Then, overwhelmed, she said, “I can't do this,” and returned to her seat.

Richard F. Schneider, a 34-year-old truck driver from Fairfield, said the crash left him with horrifying images that he relives constantly.

“I have to go past that spot 45 times a month ... Every day, I see that car come across the median ... I see it strike the front of my vehicle,” he said. “I see the young man come out the back window ... That will stay with me forever.”

The Enquirer is withholding the driver's name because of his age and because the case remained in Juvenile Court.

The teen's lawyer, Tom Heekin Jr., called his client “the most sorry person in this courtroom.”

The teen was a Lakota West band member who got good grades and had no prior

record, Mr. Heekin said. “In many ways, he was a model kid,” he said. “... All of that changed and went very wrong on the day of the accident.”

But Juvenile Court Judge David Niehaus later said, “The word "accident' is so misused in a case like this ... Recklessness is not an accident.”

The teen was charged with delinquency counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.

The judge said the youth behaved with “utter disregard” for the consequences. “Anyone in his right mind” would have known not to attempt to negotiate the curving I-75 entrance ramp from the Michael A. Fox Highway while traveling at more than twice the suggested speed of 45 mph, the judge said.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com



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