Thursday, May 8, 2003

Victim's injuries reminder of crime

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - When Paula L. Wheeler shows up for her bartending job at the Twilight Zone Bar and Grill here, she is reminded of Jan. 29, 1994.

An apparently intoxicated man became angry at the staff's refusal to serve him liquor, says Wheeler, who was then off-duty at the bar, 5555 Cincinnati-Dayton Road. In his haste to leave the parking lot, the man drove over Wheeler - twice, a Butler County sheriff's report says.

"I ended up on the ground, and his rear tire ran over my back. I thought I was gone," Wheeler, 39, of Lemon Township, said Wednesday. "I still think about it every day."

Wheeler, who says she suffered permanent nerve damage in her back, feels she got more punishment than the man convicted of the offense, Joseph W. Merriman.

This week, authorities reported they had recently arrested Merriman, 36, in the midst of a Cairo-to-Cincinnati trip. They allege he has been living under an assumed name after violating probation five years ago. The FBI, which assisted in the arrest, said there also is a federal investigation that could lead to additional charges.

Merriman is being held in the Butler jail awaiting a Friday hearing in Common Pleas Court.

Wheeler said she plans to attend the hearing and hopes she will get a chance to argue for more punishment for Merriman, who was found guilty of aggravated assault and driving under a suspended or revoked license in the 1994 incident.

The former West Chester Township man served only five months of an 18-month sentence before he was released on shock probation, records show - and Wheeler said she received only $300 of the $11,546 a judge ordered Merriman to pay in restitution to her.

"They never should have let him out after five months," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said she was hospitalized only briefly after being run over, but the effects have been long-lasting.

She was out of work for nearly four months. During that time, "I basically had to teach myself how to walk again," Wheeler said, because she didn't have insurance that would pay for rehabilitation therapy.

Wheeler says she also incurred thousands of dollars in medical bills because she didn't have insurance to pay for her care at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where a medical helicopter had taken her.

To this day, Wheeler says, she continues to have no sensation in her lower back.


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