Wrong-way driver is sentenced to 8 years

Judge calls Perrysburg man reckless

Christopher Jones said he hopes his sentencing  for the fatal October wrong-way crash on I-75 will give the victims' family some closure.
Christopher Jones said he hopes his sentencing for the fatal October wrong-way crash on I-75 will give the victims' family some closure.

Holding a letter written by the fiancee of a man killed in a wrong-way crash last year on I-75, a judge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court asked that it be read out loud so Christopher Jones, who was to blame for the collision, would know the pain he caused.

Judge Ruth Ann Franks then sentenced the Perrysburg man to the maximum of eight years in prison.

"I slowly took Matt's hand and there was no life. I started to cry with all the pain I was feeling," a tearful Dawn Lerma read from the letter recounting the Oct. 15 crash in which Matthew Davis, 37, was killed and Ms. Lerma and three children were injured.

Ms. Lerma recalled asking her children if they were all right. A son, then 9, answered, "Yes, Mommy, but Daddy's dead."

Jones, 35, was sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide, plus an additional 18 months for each of two counts of vehicular assault.

Judge Franks ordered the sentences be served consecutively, giving him the maximum sentence allowed.

Jones had previously pleaded no contest to the three charges, and was found guilty of recklessly causing the crash.

Along with his prison time, Jones' driver's license has been suspended for life.

Authorities said the crash occurred in the northbound lanes of I-75 near the Phillips Avenue exit ramp just before 11 p.m. Jones' vehicle collided with a northbound car driven by Ms. Lerma.

Ms. Lerma and two children in the car -- a 15-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy -- were hurt seriously in the collision on Oct. 15. The nine-year-old was not seriously hurt.

Mr. Davis, Ms. Lerma's fiance who was riding in the front passenger seat, was killed almost instantly by blunt-force trauma, authorities said.

During a lengthy hearing Thursday, Judge Franks reviewed Jones' past traffic record, noting that he had some speeding violations as well as a drunken-driving arrest in 2004.

While he had no previous criminal record, the traffic offenses showed a pattern of recklessness behind the wheel, the judge said.

"The defendant refers to this as an accident, but this was reckless conduct," she said.

Jones apologized for causing the crash and said he remains unsure what happened that night that caused him to be on the wrong side of the freeway.

"I'm very sorry for the pain and suffering I've cause the victims and their families," he said. "… I hope my sentence will give [them] some sort of closure."

Attorney John Thebes told Judge Franks before sentencing that although Jones had a variety of traffic offenses, "the state of Ohio has deemed him a valid licensed driver."

Mr. Thebes noted that there were no illegal drugs or alcohol in Jones' system, only therapeutic levels of a drug that he had previously been prescribed for bi-polar disorder. He added that it is an educated guess that Jones entered the highway that night off Phillips, near the old Jeep plant, at an intersection that he said is "tricky."

"That can be a very confusing place to enter on the highway," he said. "I'm not suggesting it happens every day, but it can get a little tricky, especially at night."

Mr. Thebes declined to comment on the sentencing.

Members of Jones' family tearfully left after the sentencing.

Ms. Lerma and members of Mr. Davis' family left without comment.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.