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Published: Tuesday, 1/15/2002

Semi-truck driver will not go to jail for deaths of 3

Calvin Prescott, 76, an Indiana truck driver, was southbound on I-75 May 20 and hit the rear of a van, killing three of its passengers. Calvin Prescott, 76, an Indiana truck driver, was southbound on I-75 May 20 and hit the rear of a van, killing three of its passengers.
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A 76-year-old truck driver who slammed his rig into the back of a van on I-75 in May and killed three people received a suspended jail sentence yesterday from a Lucas County judge.

Calvin Prescott of Ridgeville, Ind., convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide in Common Pleas Court, was placed on community control for three years by Judge Robert Christiansen.

Mr. Prescott was given a mandatory three-year license suspension. Judge Christiansen ordered consecutive six-month sentences on each misdemeanor charge but suspended the jail time in lieu of Mr. Prescott completing community control.

The victims - Donald Bookwalter, 47; his son, Travis, 22, and James Lenzie, 16, all from Illinois - were passengers in a van hit in the rear May 20 by Mr. Prescott's tractor-trailer near a construction zone near Expressway Drive in North Toledo.

They were returning from a weekend fishing trip at Port Clinton when the driver, James Lenzie, 38, young Lenzie's father, slowed for traffic by the construction zone.

Mr. Prescott was driving south on I-75 and hit the rear of the van, pushing it about 500 feet into a grass embankment.

The victims were in the van's rear seat. Mr. Lenzie and Richard Sorenson, 42, a front-seat passenger, were hospitalized.

Though she could not be present, Shirley Bookwalter, the wife of Donald and mother of Travis, wrote a letter to the judge that Joan Coleman, director of the county's victim assistance program, read on her behalf.

Mrs. Bookwalter, who has a 15-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, asked the judge to suspend Mr. Prescott's operator's license, but not to send him to jail.

“I don't hate him, but I don't like what has happened. I do not want him to ever drive a semi-truck again or for him to be behind the wheel of any vehicle,” she wrote.

Jerome Phillips, a Toledo attorney who represented Mr. Prescott, acknowledged the age of his client and said he was driving the rig to pay for the medicine that his wife of 58 years needs for heart, back, and lung ailments.

Though indicted with specifications that there were aggravating circumstances, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges in return for Mr. Prescott's pleas of no contest. Prosecutors said Mr. Prescott, a self-employed truck driver for 50 years, was driving approximately 57 mph in an area where the limit is 55 mph.

Jeffrey Lingo, an assistant prosecutor, said there is no evidence that Mr. Prescott was driving recklessly. “Speed alone is not enough to prove recklessness,” he said.

Witnesses said the van was going about 20 mph and had slowed for traffic, which was merging because of a construction zone.

Mr. Prescott looked in his rear-view mirror, looked up, saw the van, and hit his brakes before striking it.



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