A Union County grand jury on Friday indicted Douglas A. Jones, of Mansfield, on charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular homicide, plus two counts of failure to stop after an accident.
The victim in the Dec. 7 accident was Teresa Howell, a 24-year-old Greenwich woman and mother of two young boys.
As to why it took more than seven months for charges to be filed, Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said “a number of things needed to be followed up on.”
Prosecutors worked closely with the Union County Sheriff’s Office for this case. Processing forensic evidence and contacting witnesses contributed to the lengthly investigation, Phillips said.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, Jones could face up to five years in prison, Phillips said.
The vehicular homicide charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
Of the two failure-to-stop charges, the most serious is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of two to eight years, Phillips said.
For the next step in the criminal proceedings, Jones will be served with a summons to appear in Union County Common Pleas Court for his arraignment hearing. The court date had not been set as of Friday afternoon.
At an arraignment, a defendant typically pleads “not guilty” and receives a trial date. Bond matters are discussed at that court hearing as well.
Jones also is a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by Howell’s family in March, according to Union County Clerk of Courts records. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the Mansfield man and Estep Express Inc. trucking of Lexington.
On Thursday, Jones was issued a subpoena, ordering him to hand over all documents and items related to the case.
The fatal accident happened Dec. 7 when Howell was part of a Lake Erie Construction Co. road crew doing guardrail work in the southbound lanes of U.S. 33 in Union County’s Jerome Township. Orange traffic cones and warning signs had been set out, but Jones failed to observe the signs and drove through the cones, hitting Howell, according to the lawsuit.
Jones failed to stop, according to the Union County Sheriff's Office investigation. He was found a few hours later in Columbus, which is about 30 miles away from the accident scene. The tractor and trailer — both owned by Estep Express — were in a warehouse area at 1580 Williams Road; that’s where authorities have said Jones was heading to “deliver his load.” The semi was hauling baby food or baby formula.
This wasn’t Jones’ first offense of this nature. A similar pedestrian fatality caused by Jones occurred just four months earlier along a Pennsylvania highway, for which he was fired. The lawsuit says Estep “negligently or wantonly” hired him anyway.
After the second fatality, however, the federal agency revoked Jones’ license to drive a commercial vehicle, deeming him an “imminent hazard.” But with only six points on his Ohio license, he is permitted to keep his driver’s license — at least for now.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector staff writers Cary Ashby, Matt Roche and Zoe Greszler contributed to this story.