CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Crashes that killed a beloved Elder High School teacher and critically hurt a retired Cincinnati firefighter are renewing calls for more jail space in Hamilton County.
Larry Stone, a former Colerain Township police officer and firefighter, said he reached out this week to State Rep. Bill Seitz and FOP President Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils for help.
Stone said he was prompted to act after his friend and fellow retired firefighter, Bill DeRemer, 77, was critically hurt in a Jan. 11 crash with a repeat offender described by authorities as a "menace to society."
The case bears similarity to one recently involving a hit-skip crash that ultimately killed a beloved, longtime Elder High School teacher, Mark Klusman.
Both drivers accused of causing the crashes never held licenses to drive in the state of Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
And yet they drove for years, racking up several license suspensions that on paper that, in theory, prevented them from getting licenses and ordered them not to drive, but they obviously ignored the law and there were no repercussions, Hils and Stone note.
The driver accused of causing the crash that nearly killed DeRemer, Mark Newton, has a particularly long criminal record with more than 80 arrests and 11 convictions, including several felonies, court records show.
He was charged with an OVI in December in a case that is still pending in court and was released in November from his third prison stint since 2008, state and county records show.
The woman charged with hitting Klusman on Dec. 9 as he helped with an East Price Hill community cleanup, Kayla Wilson, 23, was just convicted two days before the crash of driving under two of the suspensions anyway, court records show.
Stone said he thinks Newton and Wilson both should have been locked up based on their records instead of being free to drive around again when the crashes occurred.
Part of the problem, he says, is there is not enough jail space in Hamilton County.
"Because of the similarity in this case and the Elder teacher crash, we have to do something about jail space at the Hamilton County Justice Center," he said. "There has to be accountability for repeat offenders. For that reason, I feel some legislation should be drafted to address this issue."
Hils has been calling for more jail space in Hamilton County for months now and echoed that again Friday. In a Facebook post, he wrote "the Criminal Justice Machine is leaking oil at the back end." His post ended with "We need a damn jail! Please build it!"
"Mark Newton is drug dealing, thieving, and no driver's license scum bag. Newton was driving a stolen car that slammed into Bill, changing Bill's later years into years of pain and hospitalization," Hils wrote.
"Mark Klusman, the beloved teacher at Elder High School died after being struck by someone that ignored the mild suggestion of not driving without a license and not driving while high on dope."
In an interview, Hils added: "If you don't have a jail, all the parts of the criminal justice system mean very little. The law has become a mild suggestion. We don't have the space to enforce the law."
DeRemer's daughter said she hopes something can be done to keep habitual offenders like the driver who is accused of causing the crash that nearly killed her father, locked up for good.
She will celebrate her father's 78th birthday with him Saturday at his bedside at the Drake Center. She said he will be transferred there Friday from the intensive care unit at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has spent the last two weeks. He faces months of rehabilitation.
"Years ago, instead of building a casino, that space would have fine for a second jail location," Jenny DeRemer said.
"I get they are putting it there for revenue but, instead of letting all these criminals out and causing more and more trouble or spending all that money on a streetcar that never works, they should have put another jail right there next to the county jail.
"How much money is being lost in crime and all this other stuff for people who need to be locked up?"
Hamilton County voters have twice rejected levies to generate money for more jail space.
The county jail is more than 30 years old and county leaders have agreed it isn't big enough to house as any inmates as needed. It was built for 840 inmates but held 1,388 as of Friday.
Over the past year, the combination of the heroin epidemic and a court ruling that prevents the Hamilton County sheriff from releasing inmates early without a judge's permission has driven up the jail's population.
Sheriff Jim Neil even declared a "state of emergency" due to overcrowding at the justice center last year and housed some inmates at the Butler County Jail.
To pay Butler County, the sheriff wound up invoking a state law that allowed him get $75,000 directly from the county's general fund without Hamilton County Commission approval. Twenty-five Hamilton County inmates were housed as of Friday at the Butler jail.
A task force made up of representatives from the prosecution office, county administration, clerks office, court house administration and the sheriff's office has been meeting over the past year to discuss both short-term and long-term solutions to the jail overcrowding issue.
Republican state lawmakers and Hamilton County Commissioners recognize the need for more jail space in Hamilton County, Seitz said Friday.
Republicans are recommending $2.25 million in the state's capital budget go the county to reconfigure the county jail to add 100 new beds devoted to inmates with opioid and detox-related issues, Seitz said. The capital budget will be finalized by the end of March.
That will free up 100 regular jail beds for offenders who otherwise would have been released due to lack of space.
"We are trying to help the county," Seitz said.
He conceded however, that he doesn't know what can be done to stop unlicensed motorists from flouting the law and repeatedly driving anyway, even in cases where they are issued multiple restrictions ordering them not to drive.
"That's a real problem. I don't have a ready solution for that. There's just so many of them," he said.