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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2007

Paulding County tragedy

LIFE isn't fair, but it is too bad that the motorist who struck a Hicksville couple's car can't be held responsible for their deaths and those of three Antwerp emergency medical workers, all of whom were later killed in a second accident.

That's because this bizarre tragedy would not have happened if it hadn't been for William Smith, a 49-year-old pickup truck driver, who had no business being anywhere near a vehicle.

According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, Mr. Smith, also of Antwerp, had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit when he rear-ended a car driven by Timothy Wells, 15. The boy was properly stopped on U.S. 24, waiting to turn. The car belonged to his parents, Robert Wells, 64, and Armelda Wells, 60, of Hicksville. They and a grandson, David Bremett, were passengers; Timothy was driving with a learner's permit.

Mr. Smith's blood alcohol level was 0.14; Ohio's legal limit is 0.08. The highway patrol has charged him with operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, with failure to stop within an assured clear distance, and with driving with a suspended license in connection with a recent accident. But what's bitterly ironic is that he hasn't been charged in the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Wells and the EMS workers, who were transporting them to a hospital. That's because even though he started the chain of events, he wasn't behind the wheel when the ambulance slammed into a tractor-trailer rig.

The Wells' son and grandson were also taken to Paulding County Hospital, but fortunately for them it was by an EMS unit from Paulding. As the Antwerp ambulance headed to the hospital, it struck an eastbound tractor-trailer truck at an intersection.

Three EMS volunteers were killed: Sammy Smith, 64, the driver; Heidi McDougall, 31, and Kelly Rager, 25. Ms. McDougall's husband Matt, a Hicksville police officer and also an EMS worker, survived. So did the semi-driver, Gerald Chapman, Jr., 54, of Bryant, Ind.

Although witnesses say the ambulance driver drove through a stop sign, the emergency crew wouldn't have been on the run if Mr. Smith had not run into the back of the Wells' vehicle.

The fact that the pickup-truck driver hasn't been charged in their deaths compounds the grief that has engulfed Hicksville and Antwerp. Regardless of who caused the second accident, there is no doubt that one man driving while drunk set off the chain of events that led to it.

And that's a story that should be remembered by anyone who has a drink and then thinks about getting behind the wheel.


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