Thursday, October 16, 2003

Passenger guilty in crash that killed four teens



By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILMINGTON - Relatives of four teens killed in a car crash along Ohio 28 reacted with tears of joy and sighs of relief Wednesday after a judge convicted the teen accused of causing the crash.

"We were somewhat worried that he would be found not guilty or the charges would be reduced," said Kathy McRoberts, whose 16-year-old daughter, Jennifer, died in the 2002 crash.

In September, the 18-year-old Loveland teen, a front seat passenger in the car, went on trial charged with four counts of reckless homicide for grabbing the steering wheel and causing the car to go out of control.

Because he was 17 at the time of the crash, the teen was tried as a juvenile and his name is not being released.

The verdict was part of a written decision rendered Wednesday afternoon by Clinton County Juvenile Judge G. Allen Gano.

Officials at the courthouse declined to release the full decision, citing privacy laws for juveniles.

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. The teen could be held in juvenile detention until he turns 21.

During his two-day trial, the teen's attorney argued that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that his client grabbed the steering wheel.

The six occupants of the car, all students of Goshen High School, were heading to Monroe Falls for a swim when their car went off Ohio 28 in Clark Township, Clinton County.

Killed were Lester Smith, 16, of Loveland; Natasha Schnelle, 17, of Pleasant Plain; Jessie King, 16, of Loveland, and McRoberts of Goshen.

All four were in the back seat, and none wore seat belts.

The driver, also charged as a juvenile, pleaded guilty in May to speeding and driving with a suspended license. She was placed on probation, ordered to do community service and won't be able to drive for two years.

During testimony, the girl admitted smoking marijuana while driving.

Parents of the teens who died have formed a nonprofit organization aimed at educating teens and adults about seat belt usage and safety.

E-mail mmccain@enquirer.com




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