Jane and Ronald Miller, the parents of the late Ronald Miller, Jr., listen as their daughter testifies during Terri Camp Kruse's hearing.
PORT CLINTON - Terri Camp Kruse admits she's an alcoholic, admits she'd been arrested three times for drunken driving before the night of April 3, 1993, when she went left of center on a curve on State Rt. 51 and killed a 14-year-old boy on his way home from a dance.
"I was unemployed. I was irresponsible. I was a user, manipulator, liar, a cheat - not a very nice person, and drinking was a mode of escape," Kruse, now 45, told Ottawa County Common Pleas Judge Bruce Winters and a packed courtroom yesterday.
The Woodville woman, who says she has been clean and sober since five days before entering prison back in October, 1993, is asking the court to restore her driving privileges.
In addition to the 10-year prison sentence she served for aggravated vehicular homicide for the death of Ronald Miller, Jr., of Oregon, she also lost her driver's license for life.
After listening to four hours of testimony, Judge Winters took the matter under advisement, saying he would issue a decision in two weeks.
"This morning has been a powerful morning," the judge said. "I've learned a lot about recovery. I've learned a lot about the pain of losing a child."
Family members of the victim, "Ronnie," as he was known, said Kruse should not get her license back - at least not right away, and not without strict conditions.
Ohio law permits Kruse to petition the court for her driver's license after 15 years with no other convictions. Ronnie's mother, Jane Ann Miller, said because Kruse has been out of prison only seven years, the court should require her to prove her sobriety in the next eight years before deciding whether she has earned the right to drive again.
Terri Camp Kruse becomes emotional as she testifies during a hearing in Ottawa County Court. Kruse, who served a 10-year-prison sentence for aggravated vehicular homicide and lost her driving privileges for life, is asking the court to reinstate her driver's license.
"In eight years, if she's randomly drug-tested, alcohol-tested, and this comes back fine and she's still attending AA and if she's violation-free, let's re-evaluate it. Let's re-evaluate it then," Mrs. Miller said. "If this all comes back fine, then maybe [my husband] Ron and I and my girls need to do some re-evaluating on our thoughts. People can change, I guess, but I want proof. I need proof. I have to have proof. We lost too much."
Kruse said she'd been to several bars drinking with her sister the night of the crash. She said she was driving to a bar in Elmore and arguing with her sister when she missed a curve, swerved left of center, and struck Mrs. Miller's car.
She said at first she didn't even know she'd hit a car. At the time, she said, she "couldn't stop drinking on my own. At that point in my life, I was full-blown into my alcoholism, and the only way I was going to put the plug in the jug was to be incarcerated. … As ironic and sad as it is, that is what I needed."
About five years after she was in prison, she said she finally began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in earnest and became serious about dealing with her drinking problem.
Kruse's husband, Eric Kruse, her AA sponsor, and two other AA members who know her testified that Kruse has done very well with her sobriety, that she does not drink, and that she has a good job as an optician for an optometrist in Woodville.
Under cross-examination by Special Prosecutor Christy Cole, Kruse said staying sober is "not a battle at all."
"My life has changed, and I don't have any desire to drink," Kruse said.
Still, Ms. Cole told the court Kruse had a horrendous driving record before the crash and admitted that despite not having a license, she drove her husband home one night after her release from prison because he was drunk.
"After her first DUI, she didn't get it. After her second DUI, she didn't get it. After her third DUI, she didn't get it. Even after she killed Ronnie Miller, she still continued to drink. Nothing got through to her," Ms. Cole said. "It's a big red flag to me when she sits up here on the witness stand and tells this court that sobriety is easy for her."
Kruse's attorney, William Hayes, suggested the judge restore her driving privileges but put her on probation for five years.
"I suggest to the court that you will never receive a stronger case in a vehicular homicide case for giving a license back," Mr. Hayes said. "… I'm not asking you to reward her. I'm asking you to tell her to start picking up her load and stop relying on other people to drive her to work, drive her to AA meetings."
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