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Published: Wednesday, 9/27/2006

Jury poised to get bike fatality case

Ottinger Ottinger

A jury could decide today whether a Monclova Township man was reckless or negligent when he drove his van into the path of bicyclist David Larabee, killing the popular Ottawa Hills High School math teacher.

The aggravated vehicular homicide trial of Casey Ottinger, 27, began Monday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. The jury is expected to begin deliberations today after attorneys present their closing arguments.

Mr. Ottinger is charged in the Sept. 2, 2005, death of Mr. Larabee, who collided with the defendant's van at Dorr Street and Crissey Road in Springfield Township.

The 41-year-old physics and calculus teacher lived in Monclova Township and often used his light-weight road bike to commute to the high school. He was riding home that day about 2:30 p.m. when the defendant drove into his path.

At the time, Mr. Ottinger, of 8481 Maumee-Western Rd., was driving with a suspended operator's license. He was driving north on Crissey and failed to stop at Dorr, causing the the westbound bicyclist, who was wearing a helmet and bright multicolored shirt, to collide with the van.

In his opening statement, Rob Miller, an assistant county prosecutor, said Mr. Ottinger "recklessly ignored" three traffic signs warning motorists about the intersection and stop sign, and left nearly 70 feet of skid marks after entering the intersection.

According to yesterday's testimony, Mr. Ottinger admitted to Ohio Highway Patrol troopers that he didn't realize Crissey ended at Dorr and thought a driveway on the north end of the intersection was a continuance of the roadway.

Trooper Stephen Babich said a reconstruction of the accident through computer analysis showed the defendant's speed was about 32 mph when he slammed on the brakes and began skidding in the intersection.

Trooper Babich, an accident reconstruction specialist, said the vehicle skidded for 22 feet on the pavement and continued skidding an additional 48 feet off the road into the driveway before stopping in the grass.

Jon Richardson, an attorney for Mr. Ottinger, said his client was not speeding or driving erratically but "simply missed the stop sign" and caused a tragic accident that was unavoidable.

"He was not doing anything other than what we have all done sometime in our life - letting his mind wander and missing a sign," Mr. Richardson said.

The jurors also heard testimony from Cathy Thomas, who was following the victim's bicycle on Dorr and saw him being thrown from the bike into the passenger window of the defendant's van.

She said she watched Mr. Ottinger approach the intersection and knew he would not be able to stop. She said she used the defendant's cell phone to call 911 because he couldn't dial the number.

Some of Mr. Larabee's family members wiped tears from their eyes as Ms. Thomas, of Swanton, told the jury she tried to comfort the unconscious victim.

Judge Charles Doneghy asked jurors to return to the courtroom at 9:30 a.m. today.

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