Construction zone fatality investigation 'nearing the end'

Cary Ashby • Dec 26, 2018 at 4:00 AM

The investigation of the Dec. 7 construction zone accident in Union County that killed a local construction worker is coming to a close.

Lake Erie Construction Co. employee Teresa M. Howell, 24, of Greenwich, was killed in an accident on U.S. 33 in Jerome Township. She was pronounced dead at the scene after a 2004 Kenworth truck hauling a 2014 Great Dane trailer reportedly hit her and left the scene.

“The investigation is nearing the end,” Union County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tom Morgan said. “We are waiting for the autopsy results.”

Once those results are available, the case will be presented to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office for the consideration of charges, he added. While authorities know the identity of the male driver, the sheriff’s office isn’t releasing his name because he hasn’t been charged.

Howell was working with crew members on a guardrail repair on eastbound U.S. 33. The work was part of an Ohio Department of Transportation maintenance contract.

The sheriff’s office received an emergency call concerning the accident about 8:59 a.m. Dec. 7. Deputies, along with Jerome and Washington Township firefighters, responded to the scene on U.S. 33, west of Ohio 161. The coroner’s office also was called.

The preliminary investigation has revealed the semi driver drove over several orange safety cones that had been placed in the right-hand lane of U.S. 33. The cones were there to protect Lake Erie Construction workers while they performed maintenance on the guardrails.

The semi kept going after Howell was hit, investigators said, but it was unclear if the man fled or didn't realize the victim had been hit, according to ABC 6. Authorities later found him for questioning.

About 90 minutes after the crash, the tractor and trailer — both owned by Estep Express Inc. in Mansfield — were found in a warehouse area at 1580 Williams Road in Columbus, nearly 27 miles from the crash site. Morgan has said the semi was hauling baby food or baby formula and Williams Road “was where he (the driver) was heading to deliver his load.”

The eastbound direction of U.S. 33 was closed between U.S. 42 and Ohio 161. All lanes were open about 4 1/2 hours after the incident.

“There were a lot of witness statements collected,” said Morgan, who earlier told the Reflector it was “a very complicated criminal investigation.”

Authorities also seized many pieces of evidence at the scene and off the semi that reportedly hit the victim, the chief deputy added. The Multi-County Crash Investigation Team, coroner’s office and motor carrier enforcement unit of the state Highway Patrol assisted the sheriff’s office with the investigation.

Howell was in her third year working at Lake Erie Construction. She was a member of Laborers Local 894 in Akron.

“She meant a lot to everyone here,” said Mike Bleile, Lake Erie Construction treasurer, shortly after Howell was killed. “She was just a wonderful person.”

Howell, a 2012 graduate of GlenOak High School, moved to Greenwich with her grandmother and family four years ago.

“Teresa quickly became part of the family here at Lake Erie Construction. Her energy and work ethic were admired by everyone she met. This devastating loss is made even more profound by those who knew her because of her invincible spirit and infectious attitude, which allowed her to be both a loving mother and a construction laborer determined to never be outworked by anyone she worked with,” Bleile said.

Her survivors include: Her sons Leland and Chevy; her parents Darrell and Jenny; her boyfriend Cyle Leach; grandparents Paula and Doug Tolliver and Darrell and Joanne Shaffer; siblings Darrell, Daniel, Jaryd, Bobbie Jo, Miranda, her special sister Jenny and special brother Derek and Destini. She was preceded in death by her brother, Nicholas Amore.

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