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Published: Friday, 9/15/2006

Truck driver guilty in deadly turnpike crash

BOWLING GREEN - An Arkansas truck driver whose rig slammed into a string of cars that were stopped on the Ohio Turnpike last year was found guilty yesterday of vehicular homicide.

Peggy Sue Derryberry, 54, of Dover, Ark., had been indicted on a felony charge of aggravated vehicular homicide but Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex convicted her of the less serious misdemeanor following a two-day trial. He said her conduct was negligent but not reckless.

"This is a severe tragedy for everyone. Obviously there's nothing the court can do to modify that," he said, adding that the case lacked factors such as drunken driving, speeding, or racing that would have made it an aggravated offense.

Michele Williams, 56, of Homer City, Pa., died in the six-car pile-up Aug. 12, 2005 in the westbound lanes of the turnpike near the I-75 exit in Rossford. Her husband, Arthur, and several others were injured.

Aram Ohanian, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, argued that Ms. Derryberry had been seen speeding and cutting off other vehicles, that she ignored signs warning of traffic congestion ahead, and that she must have been fatigued when she moved into the right lane and suddenly found herself heading toward a line of cars backed up on the turnpike waiting to exit.

In making his ruling, Judge Pollex pointed out that her truck's "black box" showed her speed at 68 in the minute before the crash, and that she likely was not tired because she and her husband, whom she drove with, had stopped just an hour earlier for a 45-minute break.

Jerome Phillips, attorney for Ms. Derryberry, said he was pleased with the verdict.

"This is what we offered to plea to originally," he said. "This is what it should have been. This is a result that fits the facts."

Christie Costello, a passenger in the first car struck by Ms. Derryberry, suffered a fractured neck in the crash.

"It's just a sad situation," she said after the verdict was rendered. "Sad for both families."

Ms. Derryberry said afterward that she had not gotten behind the wheel of a semi since the crash, although her husband has continued to drive truck.

"I just wish it had never happened," she said. "I wish the people who got hurt hadn't got hurt and the lady who died hadn't died."

Sentencing was set for Oct. 31.

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