SIDNEY – Steven E. Hunter, of Sidney, is now facing up to 27 years in prison for his actions that took the life of a Maplewood Amish woman as she rode in a buggy with her family.
On Friday, Hunter, 43, changed his plea on three counts in the vehicular death of Sarah Schwartz, 23, and injuries to three family members. He changed his plea during a final pretrial hearing in Shelby County Common Pleas Court.
Shackled in leg irons and handcuffs, Hunter stood alongside Shelby County Public Defender Andrew Venters. Hunter entered a no contest plea to one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a first-degree felony, and one count of aggravated vehicular assault, a second-degree felony. He then entered a guilty plea to a count of not stopping after an accident, a second-degree felony.
It was noted Hunter was driving while impaired when the accident occurred.
Prosecutor Tim Sell informed Judge James Stevenson the state would drop two charges of aggravated vehicle assault, both second-degree felonies, in return for the pleas from Hunter.
Judge James Stevenson declared Hunter guilty of the amended charges and informed him that he could receive 27 years in prison and a $50,000 fine when sentenced. Stevenson ordered a presentence investigation and remanded Hunter back to the Shelby County Jail.
Sell told the Sidney Daily News he felt justice was served with the negotiations. He also reported the survivors of the crash made a possibly faith-based decision and chose not to participate in any aspect of the prosecution of Hunter.
Sell stated that Hunter caused the accident while intoxicated, under the influence of marijuana use, having a previous drunk driving conviction and driving without a valid license. The investigation also proved that, when Hunter discovered the woman dead, he fled the scene, first by attempting to drive his disabled vehicle from the crash site, then on foot.
Stevenson informed Hunter that mandatory rules apply to sentencing. He said Hunter’s driver’s license would be suspended for life, and he would have five years of community control once he is released from prison.
Hunter told the judge he has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffers from depression and anxiety. He also reported that he is currently on probation in Union County in a child support case.
On May 10, the Shelby County grand jury indicted Hunter on five felony charges regarding the incident. He was accused of being the driver of a truck that collided with a horse-drawn buggy along the 22000 block of state Route 47 at the Logan-Shelby County line.
At 8:40 p.m. that evening, the Logan County Sheriff’s Office received a call that a 1998 Chevrolet Suburban had struck a properly-lit buggy being used by an Amish family. Authorities reportedly found Sarah dead at the scene.
Her husband, Henry, 26, and their children, Elmer, 18 months, and Ester, four months, were injured. The children were taken by CareFlight to a Dayton hospital. Henry was first taken to Wilson Health, then transported to a Dayton hospital.
According to online court records, Logan County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Wood found Sarah lying in the roadway, deceased among the debris, when he arrived at the scene. His report also indicates he found Henry lying face down in a ditch near Elmer. A bystander was holding Ester while seated in a ditch.
Wood indicated that once the family were receiving medical care, he began searching for the driver of the Suburban. Hunter had unsuccessfully tried to drive the Suburban out of the ditch.
The witness claims he spoke to the Hunter who allegedly told him authorities had already been contacted, so the witness didn’t need to do so. However, the driver was not at the scene of the accident.
Hunter was found in a nearby cornfield, running from authorities. Once taken into custody, he allegedly began yelling that someone had stolen his truck.
Deputies noted they found a strong odor of alcohol on Hunter. Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Bleigh noted in his report that Hunter’s driver’s license was suspended due to two previous convictions for operating a motor vehicle while impaired within the past six years.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.