Driver in fatal accident reportedly ‘distracted’ before striking ODOT worker

3/7/2013
BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The scene of the accident Ken Harder was involved in on I-75 North under the Bancroft St. bridge.
The scene of the accident Ken Harder was involved in on I-75 North under the Bancroft St. bridge.

Police are investigating how a crash that killed a Temperance man on northbound I-75 occurred and whether cell phone use played a role.

Ken Harder, 51, of Temperance died at a hospital early Tuesday, hours after police said his sport utility vehicle veered off the right side of I-75 North near Bancroft Street. His SUV’s side mirror struck an Ohio Department of Transportation employee standing behind a light-duty dump truck, and then smashed into the back of the truck.

Ken Harder, 51, of Temperance.
Ken Harder, 51, of Temperance.

Mr. Harder was thrown from his vehicle and taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where he died of multiple injuries, according to the Lucas County coroner’s office.

The wreck remains under investigation. A police news release Tuesday said Mr. Harder “was texting while driving.” Authorities later said the report was based on a truck driver who told police Mr. Harder passed him shortly before the crash and saw Mr. Harder “distracted by his cell phone,” said Officer Kevin Konz, accident investigator.

“We are investigating whether he was physically texting. We are working on trying to figure out what exactly ... was going on,” he said, adding that he plans to do a follow-up interview with the witness, who told police Mr. Harder did not appear to be speeding.

Deanna Harder, 33, of Oregon said her father was not a texter. His phone was a model that had no keyboard or other features that make it easier to send text messages, she said. “He did not know how to text, so that’s what we are trying to figure out here,” she said. “It’s not making sense.”

Ms. Harder said she helped her father sign up about a year ago for a cell phone, which he could use to contact his father, who has dementia and with whom he lived. She said her father didn’t want to set up voice mail on the phone, and it did not have Internet service.

She questioned what another motorist could have seen while driving on the interstate.

“It is so much right now to take in, and just trying to figure out everything,” she said.

Police said they found parts of a phone near the accident scene Tuesday but have not determined if it belonged to Mr. Harder.

Authorities said they might seek phone records to try to shed light on the crash. Sgt. Joe Heffernan said because Mr. Harder died “there’s not going to be any charges.”

Last week, penalties went into effect for Ohio drivers caught texting. Drivers can be fined, and those under 18 can face license suspensions. Toledo banned texting while driving a couple years ago. Officer Konz said the city’s law encompasses other phone activities that distract a driver.

Sgt. Heffernan said that while it appears Mr. Harder was at fault, authorities may never know what caused the crash.

Ms. Harder said her father’s work background included a job at Chrysler and self-employment in painting and wallpapering. He hadn’t been able to work recently because he had emphysema, she said.

Mary Rich, 51, of Oregon was one of two ODOT workers who had pulled over to collect debris when their truck was hit at 4 p.m. Monday. Ms. Rich was not seriously hurt, police said, but was taken to Mercy St. Vincent, where she was not listed as a patient Tuesday afternoon. The other worker was not injured.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.