No jail time in distracted driving fatality crash

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The driver accused of distracting driving that caused a fatal accident in 2013 will escape a jail sentence.

In April 2013, Tery Elzey was the operator of a chartered school bus, when he drove into a disabled truck along Interstate 70.  The truck had run out of gas and was being pushed by driver Chris Barthelmas.  A teenaged boy, Rodney Matthews was a passenger in the disabled truck.  Chris Barthelmas was killed and his passenger was seriously injured, suffering a broken back. 

Matthews’ life has been permanently changed.  His broken back is held together by pins and rods.  Margaret Van Balen, a victim’s advocate said “Dakota was a normal 16-year old boy before this happened.  He loved fishing, riding his 4-wheeler, jet-skiing on the lake, roller coasters and playing football with his friends.  He is told by his doctors that he can no longer do these things.”

The chartered school bus had on-board video that revealed that the bus driver repeatedly took his eyes off the road, looking down and to his left.  The video showed that the driver glanced away from the road at least eight times and the bus weaved over the white line on the edge of the road. 

At the sentencing of the driver, Judge David Stansbury stated the jury believed the tragic crash was caused by Elzey’s distracted driving.  “They felt that Elzey was simply distracted at the time of the accident because he was paying attention to the control panels on the bus,” said the judge.

While Judge Stansbury could have sentenced Elzey to 90 days in jail, he decided not to.  “There’s nothing that will change the guilt that Mr. Elzey will feel.  There’s nothing that will change the trauma that Mr. Matthews underwent that night.  The Court finds that no amount of jail time is going to bring any greater amount of closure to the families involved.”

The bus driver had no criminal background.  He wept as he apologized.  “I’m just sorry.  This is tragic.  And I’ve got to live with it the rest of my life.  I’m sorry.”

Judge Stansbury suspended Elzey’s driver’s license for one year and imposed a one year probation and 40 hours of community service.  Stansbury stated that it was his hope that Elzey would serve his community service hours by educating others about the terrible consequences of distracted driving.

The Ohio personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Clark, Perdue & List have represented hundreds of people who have suffered as a result of the negligence of another driver.  If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash, call Clark, Perdue & List.