Drunken drivers, some of them repeat offenders, killed hundreds in Ohio last year

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File photo (Source: Pixabay)(WXIX)
Updated: Feb. 13, 2019 at 9:06 PM EST
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Drunken drivers put you and your family in danger, but despite arrest after arrest, repeat offenders continue to get behind the wheel.

Tom Tomasheski’s world was shattered in 2011 when a drunken driver took the lives of Tammy, his daughter-in-law, and Tommy, his grandson, who was just 11 years old.

“There is never a day in my life, there’s never a day I don’t think of my grandson,” said Tomasheski. “There’s never a day where I don’t think of my daughter-in-law.”

Before the fatal crash, the man behind the wheel, Gerald Wetherbee, had been arrested twice for driving drunk. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

State troopers made nearly 27,000 OVI arrests in Ohio in 2018.

Lt. Robert Sellers said in the past 25 years, OVI-related fatalities have dropped significantly. But last year, 358 people still died at the hands of a drunk driver in Ohio, down from 405 people killed in 2017.

“These are 400 lives lost, 400 birthdays not celebrated, 400 Christmases, Thanksgivings, you name it,” said Sellers.

One third of those deaths involved repeat offenders. Nearly 5,500 Ohioans have received five or more OVI-related convictions in the past 20 years. To try and deter them from continuing to drive under the influence, the State publishes their names and home addresses in a searchable online database.

“Unfortunately it’s clear that they don’t care about their own safety or the safety of everybody else who’s out on the road,” said Sellers.

Many of the top statewide offenders -- more than 150 -- are from Hamilton County. The majority listed have, on average, five offenses. There are a handful of people with six or seven offenses.

Casey J. Daniels and Rodney G. Marshall II top the list in Hamilton County, with eight DUI convictions apiece, the highest FOX19 could find among those listed.

In northeast Ohio, Duran Mims has a whopping 12 OVI-related convictions since 1999. Leo Hammer Jr., of Ashtabula, takes a close second. He hasn’t had a valid driver’s license since 1995, but that didn’t stop him from racking up 11 OVIs in the last 20 years.

“As long as they have access to a vehicle, whether they’re sober or they’re impaired, they’re going to drive it,” said Lt. Sellers.

In Ohio, repeat offenders face stiffer fines and prison time. A second OVI offense in 10 years carries at least 10 days in jail. Additionally, your license can be suspended up to five years and you have to attend a treatment program. But unless someone is killed, or seriously hurt by an impaired driver, those first few offenses are typically misdemeanors. It does not become a felony offense until the fourth OVI, which carries a jail sentence from 60 days to one year, and fines up to $10,500.

Lawmakers are trying to fix some of the weaknesses with Annie’s Law, named after a Chillicothe woman, killed by a repeat drunk driver, on US Route 50.

“We hope it will be quite literally sobering to someone who has a first offense,” said State Sen. Nickie Antonio, who co-sponsored the bill, which went into effect in 2017.

First time OVI offenders can choose to install interlock breath-test devices in their cars for full driving privileges. Otherwise, their license is now suspended for a year instead of six months.

“You need to make a change, you need to stop. And if that means you have to use a device to be able to use your vehicle, to be able to get to your job, so be it,” said Antonio.

She adds, it's too soon to know whether the new law is working yet. But, Annie's Law also increases the "lookback period" for judges when it comes to sentencing, now able to look at 10 years of driving records, instead of just six.

The registry is compiled from Ohio courts report to the Ohio Department of Public Safety and is updated monthly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our sister station in Cleveland, WOIO, contributed to this report.

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