Ohio cops hampered in enforcement of texting while driving ban - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Ohio cops hampered in enforcement of texting while driving ban

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FOX19 NOW spotted this trucker last week looking at his cell phone as he drove a tractor-trailer up I-75 at mile marker 1. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) FOX19 NOW spotted this trucker last week looking at his cell phone as he drove a tractor-trailer up I-75 at mile marker 1. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
The wreckage of Thornhill's truck. (FOX19 NOW Photo) The wreckage of Thornhill's truck. (FOX19 NOW Photo)
Christopher Thornhill pleaded guilty last month to 12 counts connected to the crash. Those counts included texting while driving and trying to delete text messages to hide them from investigators. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) Christopher Thornhill pleaded guilty last month to 12 counts connected to the crash. Those counts included texting while driving and trying to delete text messages to hide them from investigators. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
Thornhill hung his head during the entire sentencing hearing Wednesday, wiping tears as he apologized to Sevilla's family. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) Thornhill hung his head during the entire sentencing hearing Wednesday, wiping tears as he apologized to Sevilla's family. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
FOX19 NOW saw this taxi driver reading her phone as she drove along in traffic on Central Parkway in Cincinnati last week. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) FOX19 NOW saw this taxi driver reading her phone as she drove along in traffic on Central Parkway in Cincinnati last week. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
BOONE CO., KY (FOX19) -

It’s one of the most common crimes you see along the highway in the Tri-State: texting while driving. It’s also a crime law enforcement sees, too, but Ohio’s texting while driving ban has a built in hurdle officers are finding difficult to jump when they see someone behind the wheel with a cell phone in hand.

Statistics show there is a problem in the state with people driving while using cell phones.  

Ohio State Patrol statistics show troopers have written 992 texting while driving tickets since 2013. That number is statewide.

Meanwhile, patrol records show the number of distracted driving crashes have grown. The worst offenders in distracted driving crashes are drivers between the ages of 16 and 35 years old, according to the patrol’s annual report called “Crash Facts.”

Since the patrol started compiling distracted driving statistics for the first full year in 2013, 16-35 year olds have contributed to 6,655 crashes involving the use of a cell phone, texting, emailing or using a some other electronic device while driving.

The patrol reported 3,328 crashes in 2013 and 3,327 crashes in 2014 involving 16-35 year olds. This demographic makes up an average of 65 percent of all distracted driving cases the patrol worked in 2013 and 2014.

OSP could not provide FOX19 NOW figures for 2015 as not all crash reports are yet completed, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

DISTRACTED DRIVING CASE RANKINGS

After the state legislature passed the state’s texting ban in 2012, the patrol started work to enforce the new law. The first full year of enforcement was 2013. Since 2013, the state’s made 992 distracted driving cases, patrol records show.

The top 5 Ohio counties for distracted driving cases are:

  • Cuyahoga County: 82 cases
  • Mahoning County: 61 cases
  • Warren County: 60 cases
  • Hamilton County: 54 cases
  • Lorain County: 45 cases

The next closest Tri-State county is Clermont with 20 reported distracted driving cases.

In Ohio, law enforcement is not allowed to perform a traffic stop simply because a cop sees a driver with a cell phone in hand. The legislature crafted the 2012 texting ban making the crime a “secondary” offense. That means an officer must first see a separate traffic violation before investigating a potential texting while driving case.

That does not apply to minor drivers. Drivers under the age of 18 are banned from having access to any electronic communication device while driving. For minors, the texting ban is a primary offense.

OHIO TRUCKER PULLING 8 YEARS IN DEADLY TEXTING CRASH

Christopher Thornhill was sailing along northbound Interstate 71 in Boone County, Kentucky on Jan. 29, 2015 in his tractor-trailer when investigators said he was texting a woman.

Thornhill sideswiped an “unoccupied Chevrolet Cavalier” that was sitting along the shoulder and lost control before crossing the median into southbound lanes and hitting two vehicles.

Mark Sevilla, from Lexington, Ky., was killed in the crash and a Cincinnati woman in a separate vehicle was seriously injured.

An investigation showed that Thornhill, from Darke County, Ohio, tried to cover up his texting at the time of the crash by falsifying his log and deleting several text messages from his phone following the accident, Boone County authorities told FOX19 NOW.

Last month, Thornhill pleaded guilty to 12 charges including manslaughter, assault, tampering with evidence and a federal violation of using a cell in a commercial vehicle.

During a sentencing hearing Feb. 24, a Boone County judge sentenced Thornhill to eight years in state prison and ordered the trucker to pay restitution to the victims in the case. Thornhill must serve at least 20 percent of the entire sentence before he's eligible for parole, the judge ordered.

“I just want to apologize for the actions (inaudible) that day,” Thornhill told the judge during the sentencing hearing. “If I could take it back I would. I just want to say I’m very sorry for what has happened,” Thornhill continued.

“I want Mr. Thornhill to know Mark’s name.  I want him and this court to know the person he killed,” Sevilla’s sister Kathy Strack told the judge during sentencing.

Strack and her daughter, Sarah Strack, read statements during the hearing.

“He was then going to see our sister and then to see me,” Strack said as she described her brother’s intentions the day he was killed. “He never made it to any of those places. The next time we saw him was two days later at the funeral home,” Strack said.
 
“Instead of visiting with him, we had to make phone calls we never dreamed of making, plan his funeral, deliver his eulogy and tell his precious nieces and nephew what happened.  We had to see it replayed in the news and in the paper.  And why did we have to do all this? Because Mr. Thornhill felt texting while driving was more important than our brother’s life,” Strack told the judge.

Thornhill was arrested in June 2015 and taken back to Boone County where he’s been jailed ever since. The sentencing judge gave Thornhill credit for the eight months he’s already served in Boone County.

If paroled, Thornhill could be out at the end of the year. 

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