Amish Man Killed, 3 Injured in Buggy Crash
Driver charged with aggravated vehicular homicide
An Amish man was killed and three other family members injured when the buggy they were riding in was rear-ended on Tavern Road around 9 p.m. Sunday night.
An Amish man was killed and three other family members injured when the buggy they were riding in was rear-ended on Tavern Road shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday night.
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.
The driver of the 2003 white SUV, Douglas S. Learn, 42, of Ashtabula County — who has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide — had been drinking, and speed and alcohol are factors in the preliminary investigation, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Despite alcohol being cited as a factor in the fatal crash, Lt. Mark Neff of the state highway patrol’s Chardon post 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.
Neff added Learn was not arrested or charged with operating a vehicle under the influence or fleeing the scene of an accident because the state patrol wanted to have “all their ducks in a row” before presenting the case to Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz.
When contacted early Monday morning, Flaiz said he had not yet been called by anyone from the highway patrol.
Monday afternoon, the county prosecutor said he requested a meeting with Neff and instructed the state patrol to charge Learn with aggravated vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony, and obtain a warrant for his immediate arrest.
Chardon Municipal Court Judge Terri Stupica issued the warrant at about 1:45 p.m. Stupica later said Learn wasd arrested and was scheduled to appear before her at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Neff said he “dropped the ball” on calling the prosecutor Sunday night.
“In the past what we have done … we get statements from everybody involved, the entire crash report gets finalized, gets sent down to the prosecutor … and then they’ll authorize charges,” Neff said.
He added, “The officers last night, we decided to put everything together. The guy was a local; he wasn’t a flight risk.”
Neff conceded the prosecutor probably should have been called last night.
“I talked to him about it and we’re all on the same page now, so this won’t be a problem in the future,” he said.
After the crash, Byler’s 19-year-old sister, Alma, was flown by medical helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland for “precaution,” the OHP reported. Her condition is not presently known.
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, the state patrol said.
The state patrol reported the accident occurred at approximately 8:55 p.m. on Tavern Road, just north of state Route 700, and not far from the Bylers’ Troy Township home.
The Bylers’ buggy was traveling southbound on Tavern Road when Learn, who also was headed southbound, slammed his SUV into the back of the buggy.
Learn left the scene after he struck the buggy and continued south on Tavern Road before turning 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.”
Learn was assessed on scene and refused treatment, according to the state patrol.
Neff said Learn eventually was taken to the Geauga County Safety Center and given a breathalyzer test.
A source familiar with that test said Learn’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit.
But Neff also admitted the state trooper who accompanied Learn to the safety center did not request or order that any blood or urine samples be collected.
He said all he has right now to go off of are three witness statements as well as Learn’s statement, so he did not know many of the details.
A second crash occurred when one of the horses from the Bylers’ buggy broke free and ran down Tavern Road. The horse was struck and killed by a second car.
The driver of that car was not injured, said Lt. John Hiscox, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
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