Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Car crash blamed on passenger

Man assaulted wife as she drove, investigators say

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — An Ohio Highway Patrol trooper on routine rounds spotted the wreckage Tuesday morning: a white 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix had smashed into a concrete wall; an 8-year-old girl was halfway ejected through the rear driver's side window.

        But this wasn't just a traffic accident. It was a crime, investigators say.

        “It's a criminal traffic crash,” said Trooper R.W. Noel, who is investigating the crash that another trooper discovered at around 6:30 a.m. “It's domestic-violence-related.”

        John Koller, 31, of Kings Mills, is accused of causing the crash by assaulting his wife as she drove westbound on the Butler Regional Highway, Trooper Noel said. He has been charged with two counts of felonious assault, two counts of aggravated vehicular assault and a count of domestic violence.

        His wife, Debra K. Wells, 45, and stepdaughter, Jennifer Wells, were seriously injured; Mr. Koller suffered minor injuries. All three remained hospitalized Tuesday night.

        The Warren County couple was headed toward Mr. Koller's job at a Hamilton temporary employment agency early Tuesday when they began arguing. “He didn't want to go to work,” Trooper Noel said.

        So Mr. Koller began “punching and beating” on his wife, the trooper said. “Then he reached over and stomped on her foot several times, to the extent where he accelerated the speed of the car,” he said. Investigators on Tuesday hadn't calculated the vehicle's speed, but Trooper Noel said it was well above the 65 mph speed limit.

        Mr. Koller then “yanked” on the car's steering wheel, the office said. That caused the car to veer off the right side of the road and crash into a concrete wall just west of Cincinnati-Dayton Road. The car left a 420-foot trail of skid marks.

        No one in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt, and the child wasn't in a safety seat as Ohio law requires. If Jennifer had been buckled up, she would have suffered few, if any injuries, the trooper said. Instead, “She broke the window with her head.”

        Rescuers spent about 25 minutes cutting away the wreckage to free Ms. Wells.

        Authorities said Mr. Koller had no criminal record; the Warren County Sheriff's Office had no record of disturbances at the home.

        Reporter Steve Kemme contributed to this story.


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