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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

Hamler, Ohio, dad linked to crash is held

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - When his son crashed into a minivan on Sand Ridge Road, killing a Weston couple, Juan Mendoza allegedly got out of the car and ran.

His 19-year-old son, Cory Mendoza, fled too, but he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison for causing the deaths of William and Sharon DeWitt, both 69, and seriously injuring their daughter, Shelen Stevens, also of Weston.

Nearly two years after the fatal crash, the "disappearing dad," as he was called during Cory Mendoza's trial, is in custody in the Wood County jail.

Juan Mendoza, 39, of Hamler, Ohio, is being held on probation violations from 2003 and 2004 drunk-driving convictions in Bowling Green and Perrysburg municipal courts.

He is awaiting arraignment June 24 in Henry County Common Pleas Court for a 2008 burglary indictment.

Mr. Mendoza has not been charged with any crime stemming from the Oct. 5, 2008, crash, although witnesses testified during Cory Mendoza's trial in February that his father bought the alcohol that Cory and others in the car were consuming that day.

"Nobody's ever charged him with anything in conjunction with our accident and that is a very distressing and concerning issue for me," Mrs. Stevens said. "I've had public officials, I've had members of the clergy, I've had members of the community, I've had medical professionals who have come in contact with us ask, 'What are they going to do with that dad when they find him? What about that dad?'•"

Gwen Howe-Gebers, Wood County chief assistant prosecutor, said this week the prosecutor's office is considering what, if any, charges it could file against Mr. Mendoza for the 2008 crash.

He was not behind the wheel, she said, but authorities believe he supplied the alcohol to the underage passengers in the car as well as to Cory, who was the driver. "We're looking at a couple different things based on the testimony and interviews of all those involved," she said. "Certainly if there are appropriate charges that we feel we can prove, we would be looking at those."

Mrs. Stevens' husband, Greg, was encouraged to hear that.

"Cory's actions that day were all his choices," Mr. Stevens said. "He chose to drive, to drink, to drive erratically. There's no question about that ... but he couldn't have made those choices if people did not provide him with the means."

Cory Mendoza was sentenced to 39 years in prison, but Mrs. Stevens said it's important to her that everyone involved be held accountable for their actions.

It disturbs her still that Cory Mendoza left his young son at the accident scene as allegedly did the child's grandfather, Juan Mendoza.

The 16-month-old child was not in a car seat when his father's drive west of Bowling Green ended in tragedy. "I can't fathom in my mind a grandpa that lets a baby bounce around and just runs off. I can't fathom how you leave a baby," she said, adding, "It was very uncomfortable to think he was out there, just living his life with no consequences."

Mr. Mendoza was arrested and jailed at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio near Stryker on May 25 on a burglary warrant from Henry County. Wood County Sheriff's deputies picked him up June 2 from CCNO on warrants from Bowling Green and Perrysburg.

In both courts, Mr. Mendoza was charged with violating the terms of his probation from prior DUI convictions because he failed to complete court-ordered treatment programs, records show.

In Perrysburg, he admitted to the violation June 4 and was ordered to serve 90 days in jail. In Bowling Green, he is scheduled for a hearing on the probation violation June 23.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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