Thursday, October 23, 2014

Man Pleads Not Guilty in Amish Death
April 1, 2014 by John Karlovec | No Comments

Bond Set at $75,000 Cash or Surety

Four other misdemeanors in addition to felony

The Portage County man charged in connection with the death of a 28-year-old Amish man following a car vs. buggy crash in Burton Township Sunday night has pleaded not guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony as charged.

Douglas S. Learn, 42, of 10039 State Route 700, Mantua, made an initial appearance in Chardon Municipal Court Tuesday morning to answer to the felony charge in addition to four misdemeanor charges: two first-degree misdemeanor charges of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol — his blood-alcohol level was .089 when it was taken at the Geauga County Safety Center about two hours after the accident — an unclassified misdemeanor charge of license forfeiture suspension and a minor misdemeanor charge of failure to maintain an assured cleared distance.

The aggravated vehicular homicide count is punishable by two to eight years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000. The two first-degree OVI charges are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Learn was represented by Geauga County Public Defender Bob Umholtz when he appeared before Chardon Municipal Court Judge Terri Stupica.

Umholtz initially entered not guilty pleas on Learn’s behalf to the four misdemeanor charges.

On the issue of bond related to the felony charge, Umholtz said he understood the State of Ohio was requesting a $75,000 cash or surety bond.

“Under the circumstances, given Mr. Learn’s past history, we feel that that’s a fair recommendation,” Umholtz told Stupica. “We would ask the court to adopt that recommendation.”

Stupica said she had reviewed Learn’s record, which included a 2013 conviction for hit/skip in Portage County.

“It is significant; it does include hit/skip and escape convictions,” she said. “The court will accept the recommendation for $75,000 cash or surety bond.”

Learn is accused of slamming into the back of an Amish buggy on Tavern Road,  shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday night. He was driving a 2003 white SUV and, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, had been drinking.

Speed and alcohol were factors in the preliminary investigation, Lt. Mark Neff of the state patrol said Monday.

Joseph E. Byler, 28, of Troy Township, was pronounced dead from his injures at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center in Claridon Township shortly before 9:45 p.m.

Byler’s 19-year-old sister, Alma, was flown by medical helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland for “precaution,” the state patrol said.

His mother, Esther, and another sister, Irene, 23, were taken to UH Geauga Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries. They were treated and released Sunday night. His father, Eli Byler, who was driving the buggy, refused treatment on scene.

Learn left the scene after he struck the Bylers’ buggy and continued south on Tavern Road before turning south onto Route 700. But his SUV broke down less than a mile from the accident as a result of damage from the crash.

“According to (Learn’s) statement, he indicated he fell asleep,” Neff said. “He said he wasn’t aware that he was involved in an accident until somebody was behind him.”

Despite alcohol being cited as a factor in the fatal crash, Neff told the Maple Leaf Monday Learn was not arrested following the crash.

Instead, he was released to the custody of his mother later that evening.

Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz requested a meeting with Neff Monday morning and instructed the state patrol to charge Learn with aggravated vehicular homicide and obtain a warrant for his immediate arrest.

Stupica issued the warrant at about 1:45 p.m. Monday. State troopers arrested Learn shortly thereafter.

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