Monday, August 14, 2000

Fetal-death law used in I-74 crash




By Mara H. Gottfried
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Missouri truck driver is one of the few people charged under Ohio's 4-year-old fetal-homicide law.

        Ernest L. Westerberg, 52, was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide Saturday in Friday's Interstate 74 crash in Green Township.

        A 52-year-old teacher from Green Township and her 20-year-old daughter's unborn fetus died in the three-vehicle accident. Two women remained hospitalized Sunday.

        Before 1996, Mr. Westerberg would have been charged with only one count of vehicular homicide. But that changed when a Middletown man lobbied to modify state law, which originally did not consider a fetus a person until it took its first breath.

        Joseph Daly took up the cause after his wife and her unborn fetus were killed in a 1995 accident near Indian Hill. Gov. George Voinovich signed into law the Daly bill in June 1996.

        The law makes it a crime to harm or kill a fetus at any stage of pregnancy, with the exception of legal abortions.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said charging Mr. Westerberg under the fetal-homicide law is an appropriate application of the Daly bill.

        “The statutes are very clear,” Mr. Allen said Sunday. “What we have to show is the defendant negligently caused the unlawful termina tion of the mother's pregnancy by operating a motor vehicle. It's very straightforward.”

        Similar federal legislation, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, was passed by the House in October 1999. The bill would make it a separate offense to injure or kill a fetus in the commission of a federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman.

        Soon after the House voted, Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, introduced an identical version in the Senate, where the bill remains.

        Tracie Alfieri, of Mount Washington, was the first local person — and the second in the state — convicted under the Ohio fetal-homicide law.

        She was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault in 1997 for causing a November 1996 crash that injured Rene Andrews, of Madisonville, and killed her unborn son. Prosecutors called the crash a case of “road rage.”

        Mrs. Alfieri served five months of an 18-month sentence. She was released early to take care of her ailing daughter.

        In Friday's crash, police said, Mr. Westerberg was westbound on I-74 in the center lane and tried to move into the right lane.

        His tractor-trailer struck a 1996 Nissan Maxima, forcing it across the median and into a collision with a 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier in an eastbound lane, police said.

        Linda A. Dodd, 52, a teacher for 17 years at St. Vivian's in Finneytown, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 5 p.m. accident. She taught third grade.

        Her daughter and passenger in the Maxima, Patricia Dodd, was upgraded Sunday from serious to good condition at University Hospital. Ms. Dodd, 20, was pregnant and lost the unborn child because of her injuries.

        The driver of the Cavalier, Stephanie N. Humphrey, 28, of Mason, remained in fair condition at University Hospital.

        Mr. Westerberg, of Oak Grove, Mo., was arraigned Saturday. He was released on a $30,000 cash bond.

        Visitation for Mrs. Dodd is Tuesday from 4 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mihovk-Rosenacker Funeral Home in Monfort Heights, 5527 Cheviot Road. The funeral Mass is Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. James Church of White Oak, 3565 Hubble Road.

       



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