Sunday, July 25, 2004

Is suspending license enough?


Suspect in fatal Friday crash had privileges pulled 15 times

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Nadia Yamson (standing) and Whitney Davies of Sycamore pay their respects where their friend Nicholas Lucke died. A candlelight vigil is 9:30 tonight at the site, Fields Ertel and Butler-Warren roads.
The Enquirer/ERNEST COLEMAN
A high-speed wreck that killed four people in Hamilton County highlights a local and national problem: Motorists driving with suspended licenses and getting into fatal crashes.

Records show Jerald J. Hundley, 24, of Chillicothe, had his license suspended 15 times before he was accused of fleeing police at more than 100 mph and crashing into a utility pole, killing all four of his passengers Friday. Hundley's bond was set at $1.1 million Saturday, while he remained in fair condition under police guard at Bethesda North Hospital. He faces 11 charges in the Sycamore Township crash that killed a teen and three young adults.

Many suspended drivers disregard court orders and drive anyhow - yet face few penalties if they're caught.

"To think that somebody has 15 (driving suspensions) - and now this last one has resulted in the death of four people? It infuriates me," said Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper. He has been working with Rep. Shawn Webster, R-Millville, on legislation that would stiffen penalties for motorists who drive despite suspended or revoked licenses.

"It's unbelievable, the number of people who walk right out of the courtroom and continue to drive, defying the court, defying the law and intentionally going ahead and driving," Piper said.

Nationally, about one in five fatal crashes involves at least one driver who did not have a valid license.

That's what the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported last year. The foundation also cites a study showing drivers with suspended or revoked licenses are 3.7 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than validly licensed drivers.

Webster said he will sponsor a proposed law that would create mandatory jail time for motorists caught driving under suspension. He also wants escalating mandatory jail time for subsequent offenses.

Under Ohio law, driving under suspension is a misdemeanor with a maximum jail sentence of 30 days, Piper said. But few offenders spend even a day behind bars, he said, and repeat offenders face no stronger consequences.

"You could come back 15 times - and every time, it's just a first-degree misdemeanor," Piper said.

Even mandatory jail time might not deter some scofflaws, Webster said. So he is researching additional penalties, including seizing offenders' vehicles. "I don't really know how we keep these people out of vehicles," he said.

In Hundley's case, Webster said, "you've got to wonder why the guy's out walking the streets. But I guess there's the overcrowding-the-jail issue."

Friday's crash killed Nickole Williamson, 23, and her sister, Stacey, 15, just a half-mile from their Sycamore Township home. Also killed: Nicholas D. Lucke, 24, of the Cincinnati area, and Hundley's friend Timothy J. Chaney, 22, of Chillicothe. Nickole Williamson had dated both Hundley and Lucke.

Police say Hundley was driving a 1990 Ford Probe that crashed into a utility pole at more than 100 mph, ripping the vehicle in two and flinging the halves about 50 feet apart from each other. The crash happejed`early Friday on Fields Ertel Road near Butler-Warren Road.

The four passengers were thrown from the Probe. Nickole Williamson later was pronounced dead at Bethesda; the other three died at the scene.

The crash happened minutes after a police officer spotted someone throwing a bottle from the Probe's window. He pulled the car over. The officer walked up, intending to issue a littering warning or citation. But the officer said the driver, who he said appeared drunk, revved the engine and fled. Police lost sight of the car and stopped the pursuit.

After the crash, police discovered 5.5 pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms and a loaded gun amid the wreckage. Investigators say Hundley gave a false Social Security number and name - Jarred Hunley - hampering their investigation.

Records under Hundley's name show active warrants for his arrest on drug-related charges, a suspended driver's license and eight convictions for driving offenses in the past six years.

The 10 felonies Hundley faces in Friday's crash include four counts of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Survivor said to be 'confused'

Jerald J. Hundley is accused of killing four people he cared about, but he seemed unaware that he had been involved in the deadly crash when his mother visited him at Bethesda North Hospital on Friday.

"When this hits him, he's either going to go off the deep end mentally or find some way to kill himself or have someone kill him, because he won't be able to live with this," Veronica Tackett, 44, said Saturday by phone from the Chillicothe home where her 24-year-old son was living with her.

Tackett said her son felt close to all four people who were killed in Friday's crash: Nickole Williamson, 23; her sister, Stacey, 15; and two buddies, Nicholas D. Lucke, 24, of Greater Cincinnati, and Timothy J. Chaney, 22, of Chillicothe. Nickole Williamson had dated Lucke and Hundley. Hundley's mother said her son wanted to marry Nickole but had no animosity toward Lucke. "He would rather have died himself than to have harmed one hair on any of those people's heads," Tackett said.

Her son suffered a concussion, and he was "confused and incoherent" and seemed to have no recollection of the crash when she visited him for about 90 minutes Friday. "He told me that the only thing he vaguely remembered was crawling and walking, and trying to get people to let him use the phone," Tackett said.

Chaney was driving the Ford Probe, which she owns, when he and her son left Chillicothe on Thursday afternoon, Tackett said. Chaney often drove the Probe because of her son's bad driving record, but she is making no assumptions about who was driving during the crash. "This was a horrible, horrible thing that happened. And I don't want to try to put the blame on anyone," she said.

Hundley, the sole survivor of the crash, apparently was wearing a seat belt. Hundley, who turned up four hours after the crash at a home three-quarters of a mile away, had injuries consistent with wearing a safety belt while in the driver's seat, according to court records.Donations for the Williamsons' funeral expenses are being accepted at Huntington and Fifth Third banks. E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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