'No one has been charged yet'

Cary Ashby • Apr 8, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Authorities are seeking a search warrant in connection with the investigation of the Dec. 7 construction zone accident in Union County that killed a local construction worker.

Lake Erie Construction Co. employee Teresa M. Howell, 24, of Greenwich, died 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 Union County Sheriff’s Office is handling the ongoing investigation.

“They are looking at another search warrant related to this investigation,” Chief Deputy Tom Morgan said Monday. “The investigation is not complete and has not been turned over to the grand jury yet.”

In late December, Morgan told the Reflector it appeared the probe was coming to a close and investigators were “waiting for the autopsy results.”

While it’s unknown how many search warrants investigators have secured, he said Monday they have subpoenaed “quite a few records.”

“No one has been charged yet,” the chief deputy added.

While authorities have declined to release the tractor-trailer driver’s name while the investigation continues, Lake Erie Construction treasurer Mike Bleile said “it’s common knowledge” the same suspect was involved in a crash similar to the one that claimed Howell’s life.

“I’m told it was a fatality. It was somewhat similar circumstances,” Bleile added.

On Dec. 7, 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. 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 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. The semi was hauling baby food or baby formula. Morgan has said Williams Road “was where he (the driver) was heading to deliver his load.”

After the crash, 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 noted 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 deputies with the investigation.

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

“It’s very difficult. She was a valued employee,” Bleile said Monday. “She was someone everybody liked.”

Howell, a 2012 graduate of GlenOak High School, moved to Greenwich with her grandmother and family about 2014.

“She had a great work ethic,” said Bleile, who has said Howell “quickly became part of the family here at Lake Erie Construction.”

Bliele added the company is doing its best in “moving forward” after Howell’s tragic death and working on keeping the highways safe.

Howell’s 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.

Once the investigation is complete, the case will be forwarded to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It will be up to the grand jury for any indictment,” Morgan said.

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