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Family of worker killed questions why driver remains on road after 2 fatal crashes

By DEAN NARCISO • Updated Apr 10, 2019 at 10:09 AM

COLUMBUS — Twice in six months, a truck driver from Mansfield has veered off an interstate and hit and killed a person standing alongside the highway.

The second time, police said Doug A. Jones, 78, ran through caution cones and fatally struck Teresa “Tessie” Howell. She was working along U.S. 33 just north of Post Road in Union County, unloading a flatbed truck containing replacement guardrail.

Howell was an employee of Lake Erie Construction Co. in Norwalk. Treasurer Mike Bleile confirmed Jones’ identity and similar accusations in a statement to the Reflector

“We understand from reports that Mr. Jones was involved in a very similar accident less than six months prior to the day that Teresa Howell died. That accident occurred on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania in July of 2018,” Bleile said. 

Since this is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, Lake Erie Construction is requesting drivers be cautious.

“We ask that motorists be patient and slow down when entering work zones, avoid driving distractions and be watchful for roadway workers and their equipment,” Bleile said.

“We remind drivers that the ‘Move Over Law’ now applies to construction vehicles as well as emergency vehicles and that it requires drivers to move to an adjacent lane when it is available. Last year in Ohio alone, there were 4,600 crashes in work zones which led to 689 injuries and 14 deaths. Please drive as if one of your family members or friends were working out there because they very well may be.”

Relatives of Howell, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys ages 4 and 6 from Greenwich, want to know why Jones hasn't been charged with her death — and why he still has an Ohio driver's license despite his commercial license having been revoked after the second crash.

“One time can be called an accident,” Paula Tolliver, Howell’s grandmother told The Columbus Dispatch. “But he should've been more cautious after the first. I wouldn't have been able to drive at all if I did it.”

Tolliver was referring to the July 2, 2018, crash along Interstate 81 in Lebanon County, Pa., in which Jones hit and killed a man who was standing in the berm near his disabled truck. Jones was convicted of careless driving causing a death, plus other charges, but the penalties were equivalent to traffic tickets, said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Justin Summa.

And Jones didn't lose his commercial license after that crash.

Then on Dec. 7, 2018, Jones was driving a 2004 Kenworth truck hauling 34 tons of supplies for Abbott Nutrition when he fatally struck Howell. The estimated 70-mph impact threw her more than 50 feet. "She had trauma to every part of her body," said Union County Coroner David Applegate.

Jones didn't stop, telling police who found him on the South Side that he didn't know he had hit anything.

In the Pennsylvania crash, in-cab video showed Jones appearing alert and singing to himself just before impact, Summa said. Jones, he said, showed little remorse.

Jones couldn’t be reached for comment.

Legally, with six points on his record, he’s still allowed to drive. However, his license to drive a commercial vehicle was revoked after the second crash, after he was deemed an "imminent hazard" by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“Your continued operation of a (commercial motor vehicle) substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death to you and the motoring public if not discontinued immediately,” the Dec. 27 ruling states.

Revoking a commercial license is a separate process from revoking an operator’s license, said Lt. Robert Sellers, spokesman for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which reported Howell's death to the federal agency.

“Until he is proven guilty, there isn”t a mechanism for the courts or the state to revoke his license,” Sellers said.

“It's still legally like it didn’t happen,” said Dublin lawyer Tom Martello, whose firm deals with truck crashes. “There’s a reason why it’s harder for truck drivers to get their license and easier for them to lose it.”

“I don't understand why he's not behind bars right now,” Tolliver said of Jones.

“This is a complicated case, so it’s important for us to get it done right, rather than get it done quickly,” said Tom Morgan, deputy chief of the Union County Sheriff's Office.

Morgan told the Reflector on Monday that investigators are seeking “another search warrant” and already subpoenaed “quite a few records” during the ongoing investigation.

Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said he is waiting for the trucking company Estep Express in Mansfield to provide Jones' employment records to help determine, “was he negligent or was he reckless in his operation and causing the death.” That will determine whether misdemeanor or felony charges are filed.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration )OSHA) also is investigating.

“We have jurisdiction for the workers that were exposed on the road,” said Larry Johnson, area director for OSHA. “You can’t just wrap these up overnight. I'm looking at it from a workplace-safety issue in general ... to ensure that every man and woman goes home the way they came to work.”

Howell loved hunting and fishing and anything outdoors, Tolliver said. She bagged her first deer last year and was extremely proud.

Howell had lived with Tolliver at times since childhood on the family's 100-acre property in northern Ohio.

When Howell heard about the job opening at Lake Erie Construction a couple of years ago, she grabbed it, drawn to the freedom of outdoor work.

“She outworked some of the men,” Tolliver said.

Bleile said Howell’s “family is doing their best to carry on and give her boys the love and guidance that Teresa wanted for them.”

“Her family has many great memories and it is clear that those reminders are what energizes them as they move forward after their great loss. The Leland and Chevy Howell Trust has also been established to address the educational expenses her boys,” he said.

“Those memories and respect for Teresa also motivate her co-workers in their commitment to maintaining the integrity of the safety products that make travel safer for all Ohio drivers. We appreciate their dedication and resolve to perform these tasks as safely as possible.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Norwalk Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby contributed to this story.

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