Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mantua Man Pleads Not Guilty to Aggravated Vehicular Homicide in Fatal Buggy Crash
June 7, 2014 by John Karlovec | No Comments

The Portage County man whose SUV slammed into the back of an Amish buggy in Burton Township March 30, killing one of the Amish occupants, was arraigned Friday on a 12-count indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular homicide and numerous other felonies.

The Portage County man whose SUV slammed into the back of an Amish buggy in Burton Township March 30, killing one of the Amish occupants, was arraigned Friday on a 12-count indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular homicide and numerous other felonies.

Douglas S. Learn, 42, of 17213 State Route 700, Mantua, pleaded not guilty to the indictment, which includes two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, three counts each of aggravated vehicular assault and vehicular assault, one count of failure to stop after an accident, two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and one count of driving under suspension.

“Of these 12 counts, nine are felonies and three are misdemeanors,” Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fuhry advised Learn, who is being represented by Geauga County Public Defender Robert Umholtz.

If convicted on the most serious felony charge — first-degree aggravated vehicular homicide — he faces a mandatory prison term of three to 11 years, a maximum $20,000 fine, a mandatory five years post-release control and a mandatory lifetime Ohio driver’s license suspension, Fuhry said.

The other felony charges carry possible prison terms ranging from a mandatory two to eight years for second-degree felonies to anywhere from nine to 60 months for third-degree felonies.

There are also possible fines and mandatory periods of post-release control and driver’s license suspensions.

The judge told Learn, if convicted, he should expect to be responsible for court costs and could be responsible for restitution to any victims of his crimes.

Fuhry also said he could order that multiple felony prison sentences and misdemeanor jail sentences be served consecutively, or one right after the other.

Similarly, fines assessed on multiple convictions could be aggregated, or added together.

The misdemeanor counts are punishable by mandatory jail sentences, fines and driver’s license suspensions.

The case was assigned to Judge Forrest Burt for future proceedings.

Following his arrest, Learn appeared in Chardon Municipal Court, where bond initially was set at 10 percent of $75,000 with conditions. His case also was bound over to common pleas court at that time.

On the issue of bail, Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz requested that Learn’s bond be increased to $100,000 cash or surety.

“There are a number of additional charges that have been indicted by the grand jury,” he told Fuhry.

Umholtz noted Learn has been unable to post bond and has been jailed at the Geauga County Safety Center since his arrest.

“There’s no reason to believe he would be able to post bond at this point,” he said, asking the court to continue the current bond.

Learn told Fuhry he was convicted of felony escape 20 years ago and has several misdemeanor convictions for driving under suspension.

“I’m going to accept the recommendation of the prosecutor,” Fuhry said. “The original charge was for one second-degree felony and now we have a host of additional felony charges, including a first-degree felony and several third-degree felonies.”

Prosecutors say Learn was driving a 2003 white SUV shortly before 9 p.m. March 30 on Tavern Road, just west of the Route 700 intersection, when he rear-ended an Amish buggy carrying Eli and Esther Byler, and their three adult children, Joseph E., Irene and Alma.

He was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. His blood-alcohol level was .089 when it was taken several hours after the accident.

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. that night.

Learn left the scene after he struck the Bylers’ buggy and continued east 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.

He told state troopers he had fallen asleep and wasn’t aware he had been involved in an accident.

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