Grove City adopts stricter penalties for driving violations

By Andrea Cordle

Grove City Editor

In September of last year, Sandra Hooker’s paraplegic son, 56-year-old James Alston, was testing a new manual wheelchair and riding it through the crosswalk at Columbus Street and Haughn Road in Grove City. Alston was hit by a motorist and according to Hooker, he is still recovering from his injuries.

“He was handicapped from the waist down. Now, he’s handicapped all the way up. He can’t move his body,” said Hooker at the May 20 Grove City Council meeting.

Hooker attended the council meeting because since the accident, she has been advocating for stricter penalties for drivers who cause bodily harm to pedestrians in crosswalks.

In Alston’s case, the at-fault driver was cited with a minor misdemeanor for failing to yield to a traffic device. This citation included the maximum penalty of $150.

“The violators should not get off with a slap on the wrist or a minor misdemeanor with a small fine of $150 and court costs,” said Hooker. “It should be a crime when someone causes serious bodily injury in an accident while walking or riding within the crosswalk.”

When Hooker reached out to leaders in Grove City, they listened, and the council approved an ordinance to increase the penalties for distracted driving and violations in a crosswalk that result in harm to people.

Now, in Grove City, if a driver causes physical harm to a person in a crosswalk, that driver could face a second-degree misdemeanor, which could carry a maximum fine of $750 and up to 90 days in jail. It would be a first-degree misdemeanor for those who hit a person in a crosswalk causing death. This penalty could include a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.

“The city is always looking at strategies to prevent traffic crashes and minimize injuries in crashes,” said Grove City Safety Director Kevin Teaford. “We feel that increased penalties will be a deterrent to crash causing violations.”

Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said this a prevention measure.

“Our job is to keep people from violating the law and making sure we’re putting in place all the tools we have available to us,” he said.

Hooker said, while she believes the penalty should be even higher, she is pleased that Grove City has taken this step. Sharon Montgomery, of Gahanna, was also present at the council meeting to support the legislation.

Montgomery and her husband were involved in an accident with a driver who was on his mobile phone. Montgomery was seriously injured. Her husband died. Since then, she has been advocating for stricter laws on distracted driving.

“Ms. Hooker and Ms. Montgomery were very strong advocates for these changes,” said Teaford. “We appreciate their advocacy on penalties and commitment to making our city safer.”

Both Hooker and Montgomery want to see change at the state level.

According to Stephen Smith, the city’s law director, under state law, unless alcohol is a factor, there is no ability to increase an offense to a felony in terms of accidents that result in severe bodily harm or even death.

“The legislator has not addressed these types of incidents where there is no alcohol involved,” said Smith. “It has been left as a minor misdemeanor.”

Smith said the legislation passed in Grove City takes a step to improve that.

“My office prosecuted the individual who injured Ms. Hooker’s son. We did the maximum we could do under the law,” he said. “This (legislation) will be a much better tool in the toolbox for the courts to consider when we have these types of situations.”

According to Stage, in addition to approving the higher penalties, Grove City officials will be making sure crosswalks are properly marked and they will be implementing a ‘no right turn’ on red when appropriate policy. The city also plans to create a social media tool kit to educate the public on the importance of pedestrian and bike safety. That public service campaign should launch within the next few months.






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