SIDNEY – Steven E. Hunter, of Sidney, the man who drove his vehicle into a horse-drawn buggy carrying an Amish family from Maplewood killing the mother, was sentenced to a mandatory 17 years in prison in Shelby County Common Pleas Court Tuesday.
The 43-year-old Hunter received 10 years with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction on one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a first-degree felony, and, seven years each on one count of aggravated vehicular assault, a second-degree felony, and, a count of not stopping after an accident, a second-degree felony.
Judge James Stevenson followed the recommendation of Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell in ordering the 10-year sentence and the 7-year term for aggravated vehicular assault to run concurrently, or at the same time.
After Hunter serves 10 years, he will begin to serve the 7-year sentence imposed on the charge of not stopping after an accident, which will be served consecutively.
Grand jury indicts Hunter on five charges
On May 10, the Shelby County grand jury indicted Hunter on five felony charges regarding the April 20 incident in being the driver of a vehicle that collided with a horse-drawn buggy along the 22000 block State route 47 at the Logan-Shelby County line.
At 8:40 p.m. that evening, the Logan County Sheriff’s Department received a call that a 1998 Chevrolet Suburban had struck a properly-lit buggy being used by an Amish family. Authorities reportedly found Sarah Schwartz, 23, 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. Mr. Schwartz 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 Mrs. Schwartz lying in the roadway deceased among the debris when he first 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 was receiving medical care, he began searching for the driver of the Suburban. Hunter was unsuccessful in trying to drive the Suburban out of the ditch.
Witnesses claim they spoke to Hunter who allegedly told them authorities had already been contacted, so they didn’t need to do so. However, the driver was not at the scene of the accident.
Hunter was found in a nearby cornfield and running from authorities. Once taken into custody, he allegedly began yelling that someone had stolen his truck.
Deputies noted they reportedly 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.
On July 13, Hunter changed his plea on the three counts he was sentenced on Tuesday. He entered a no contest plea to the aggravated vehicular homicide charge and aggravated vehicular assault. He entered a guilty plea to a count of not stopping after an accident.
That day Sell told the court the state dropped two charges of aggravated vehicle assault, both second-degree felonies, in return for the pleas from Hunter.
Conviction history, not apology, factor into sentence
Prior to sentencing, Stevenson listened as a tearful Hunter apologized for his actions; said the consequences of the accident weighed heavy on his heart; and, that a bad decision involving a mixture of drugs, alcohol and his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought about the terrible results.
Shelby County Public Defender Andrew Venters told Stevenson that Hunter has shown remorse and has cared about the family’s recovery from the accident. He said the father of the family met with Hunter in a “very heartfelt” manner.
Sell remarked that while no one had the intent to cause the accident, the circumstances of the accident and the scene afterwards, speak to the type of person Hunter has proven to be.
The prosecutor said Hunter was under court supervision with his driver’s license suspended at the time of the mishap. He said Hunter delayed when asked to take a blood alcohol test for a lower test result. He noted the marijuana in his system test at eight times above the level of being under the influence while driving.
Sell said Hunter was driving more that 60 miles per hour, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and was texting to his wife, when he hit the buggy from behind. However, Hunter’s actions after the accident was equally abhorrent.
He said Hunter did not check on the welfare of the victims who were lying in the road and ditches. Sell said Hunter tried to “shoo people away” who were stopping to aid the victims. He told them 911 had been called and they should leave the scene. He fled the scene on foot and texted his wife to come and pick him up.
Sell explained that when Hunter interacted with court officials he was less than sincere and tried to minimize his actions instead of taking responsibility.
Stevenson agreed saying this was Hunter’s fifth felony conviction with most involving violence and substance abuse. He stated Hunter delayed the blood tests hoping for a lower result and he tried to distance people who were trying to help the victims.
The judge said it was obvious that Hunter has a “blatant disregard for the law” and remanded his custody to the Shelby County Sheriff for transport to prison.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News