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Published: Friday, 3/26/2010

Toledo man charged in fatal I-475 crash pleads not guilty

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Seated in a wheelchair with one leg partially amputated and the other barely functioning, Rickey Miller, Jr., appeared in Lucas County Common Pleas Court yesterday to face accusations that the car crash that took his leg also took another person's life.

Mr. Miller, 31, of 568 Thurston St., pleaded not guilty yesterday to two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. He is charged in the Dec. 26 death of Sarah M. Heator, 32, who died when her car was struck by a sport utility vehicle being driven in the wrong direction on I-475.

Mr. Miller faces two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide - one that alleges he was reckless and the other that charges he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. Judge Ruth

Ann Franks released him on his own recognizance with drug and alcohol screens and set a May 3 trial date.

Assistant County Prosecutor Andy Lastra said yesterday the charges were a result of information obtained when blood was drawn from Mr. Miller at Toledo Hospital, where he was taken after the 2:50 a.m. crash. Mr. Lastra declined to release details of Mr. Miller's blood-alcohol content or behavior at the scene, saying there is a potential for "an ongoing investigation."

Mr. Miller allegedly was driving west in an eastbound lane of I-475 when he crashed head-on into Ms. Heator's Ford Fusion about a half-mile east of the Central Avenue exit.

Authorities said Ms. Heator, the mother of an 8-year-old daughter, was on her way to work at Bay Park Community Hospital where she was a nurse. Mr. Lastra said Ms. Heator normally did not work that particular shift but told a colleague she would work as a favor.

Mr. Lastra said it is not known where Mr. Miller was prior to getting behind the wheel and where he was going. "There are a lot of details that are still being put together," he said.

Mr. Miller's driver's license was suspended at the time, Mr. Lastra said in court. According to records from Toledo Municipal and Oregon Municipal courts, Mr. Miller had been convicted of several misdemeanor charges, including driving while under the influence of alcohol in 2002.

Yesterday, he was taken into custody after his arraignment and brought to the jail, where he was photographed and fingerprinted.

Attorney Phillip Browarsky, who is representing Mr. Miller, said his client has been recovering from his injuries since the crash. He said he is living in a rehabilitation center in Sylvania, where he continues to undergo medical treatment.

"He lost a good part of one leg and most of the use of his other," Mr. Browarsky said after the hearing. "He had a lot of injuries."

Members of Ms. Heator's family who appeared in court declined to comment.

The family filed a lawsuit March 1 in Common Pleas Court alleging wrongful death. Ms. Heator's father, Donald Burnard, filed the suit against Mr. Miller as well as Ms. Heator's insurance company. It requests in excess of $25,000.

Mark Vitou, attorney for the family, said the lawsuit was filed for the benefit of Ms. Heator's daughter, Emma. He said the civil complaint is progressing and won't wait for the outcome of the criminal case.

Mr. Vitou said Ms. Heator's insurance company was listed as a defendant because Mr. Miller was uninsured. He said the complaint alleges that Ms. Heator's family has a right to recover damages under her policy.

The civil case also is assigned to Judge Franks.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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