Tuesday, June 06, 2000

DUI repeater dies in car chase

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        STONELICK TWP. — Thomas Hester knew well the DUI routine. The 45-year-old Owensville man had 14 convictions for driving under the influence, a warrant for his arrest from Butler County, and no license, according to police and court records. So when he was spotted driving erratically on Ohio 132 by a Goshen Township police officer in this rural Clermont County community on Sunday, he fled.

        That 4 a.m. decision cost him his life.

        Goshen Township officer Greg Jenkins told state investigators he had reached 80 miles an hour pursuing Mr. Hester, but had slowed because he knew they were approaching a curve in the road.

        Mr. Hester lost control at the curve, struck a ditch and some trees. The car landed on its roof. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

        “He was a suspected DUI,” Goshen Township po lice chief Ray Snyder said Monday. “From the time (officer Jenkins) called it in to the crash was probably less than two minutes.”

        Only afterward did Officer Jenkins learn of his suspect's history, a string of DUI arrests from 1982 to 1999. Officer Jenkins told state investigators he was unaware of Mr. Hester's history because he had been unable to run Mr. Hester's license plate through the police computer system during the pursuit because he couldn't get close enough to read it.

        “He was registered as a habitual DUI offender,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Long. “The DUI laws are working, they're stricter now and more people are aware.”

        For example, Charles Jodrey of Milford — Ohio's worst DUI offender with 24 convictions — was sentenced last year in Clermont County Common Pleas Court to 28 years in prison.

        But some offenders avoid prison time simply by failing to show up for court.

        On Oct. 29, Mr. Hester was charged with contempt of court for his failure to appear at Butler County Municipal Court.

        That charge prompted the warrant which listed eight charges of contempt of court.

        Those charges were from 1986, '88, '89, twice in '90, twice again in '93, and then in October.

        According to municipal court records, at least two of those contempt of court charges were related to cases of DUI.

        Mr. Hester's DUI convictions were: five each in Hamilton and Butler counties, and four in Clermont including two in 1998, according to state police and the Clermont County sheriff's department.

        Toxicology tests, Sgt. Long said, are under way.


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