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Published: Friday, 6/11/2010

Drunk driver gets 9 years for fatal crash

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rickey H. Miller, Jr., had seen what a drunken driver could do.

In 1998, his brother had been killed by a driver under the influence of alcohol. Thursday, the 31-year-old Oregon man learned for himself what the consequences of that choice can be.

Sitting in a wheelchair as the result of a partially amputated leg, Miller appeared in Lucas County Common Pleas Court after being found responsible for a wrong-way, drunken-driving crash on I-475 that resulted in the death of a Sarah Heator, 32, of Sylvania. Judge Ruth Ann Franks sentenced him to nine years in prison for causing the Dec. 26 collision.

"You personally know how destructive it is, you know how it devastates a family, … but it had no effect on you," the judge said after sharing her disbelief that Miller had experienced a similar tragedy. "You carried on and perpetrated that terrible, terrible choice. … It meant nothing. It didn't impact you at all."

'You personally know how destructive it is, you know how it devastates a family ... but it had no effect on you,' Judge Ruth Ann Franks said at Miller's sentencing. 'You personally know how destructive it is, you know how it devastates a family ... but it had no effect on you,' Judge Ruth Ann Franks said at Miller's sentencing.
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Miller had a blood alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit at about 2:50 a.m. when he caused the head-on crash about a half-mile east of the Central Avenue exit. His attorneys said that he has no memory of the crash and remained in a coma for several days and was hospitalized for several weeks. He remains on numerous medications.

Attorney Phillip Browarsky said that Miller has been "more than remorseful" and has "come to accept his part in this horrible event."

Ms. Heator, a nurse and mother of an 8-year-old daughter, was pronounced dead at the scene. She had been on her way to work at Bay Park Community Hospital to take on an extra shift to help a colleague who wanted time off for the holidays.

Authorities said witnesses saw Miller's vehicle before the collision going the wrong way on I-475 and attempted to alert the driver. Both drivers were mechanically extracted from their vehicles.

Donald Barnard, whose daughter Sarah Heator died in a wrong-way crash on I-475 caused by a drunk driver early on Dec. 26, speaks of his family's loss at the sentencing of Rickey H. Miller Jr. Donald Barnard, whose daughter Sarah Heator died in a wrong-way crash on I-475 caused by a drunk driver early on Dec. 26, speaks of his family's loss at the sentencing of Rickey H. Miller Jr.
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Ms. Heator died of severe head and chest trauma.

Miller was taken to Toledo Hospital.

Two tests of blood taken from Miller within two hours of the crash resulted in readings of a 0.25 percent and 0.21 percent blood-alcohol content, authorities said. Under Ohio law, a driver is considered under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent.

Miller was driving with a suspended license because he allowed his insurance to lapse.

Donald Burnard, Ms. Heator's father, emotionally told Judge Franks about how Christmas night will always bring memories of pain to his family. Saying that his daughter was a "bright and compassionate" woman who "always went that extra mile" professionally and personally, Mr. Burnard said Ms. Heator touched many lives, as was evident by the more than 1,000 people who attended her funeral and shared stories about her life.

But her daughter, Emma, was Ms. Heator's "proudest accomplishment," Mr. Burnard said.

"So when you start feeling sorry for yourself for having to sit in prison, or the hospital, or in your wheelchair for the next 10 years, remember that this family, her fiance, and friends, and especially that remarkable little girl, got life," he said to Miller in court. "A gaping hole has been left in a lot of lives because of this senseless tragedy."

Miller apologized for his actions, acknowledging that there is nothing that can "make up" for what occurred.

Judge Franks called the crash a "senseless and absolutely intentional tragedy."

She noted Miller's history of 11 misdemeanors, including several traffic violations, drug arrests, and one 2002 conviction for driving under the influence. She also noted that Miller was driving under a suspended license at the time of the crash.

She contrasted it to Ms. Heator's life of helping others, especially those who are injured and noted that during the year Miller received his first drunken-driving conviction, Ms. Heator was celebrating her daughter's birth.

"She has no idea that she is on a collision course with this man," the judge said.

"This was no mistake," she added. "These were intentional acts by you. You were warned and warned and warned again throughout the years."

Judge Franks imposed $3,603.28 in restitution for funeral expenses and suspended Miller's driver's license for life.

After being handcuffed, Miller was taken from the courtroom. A deputy carried his bag of prescriptions and followed him out.

After the sentencing, Mr. Burnard declined to comment.

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

According to civil attorney Mark Vitou, the lawsuit was filed for the benefit of Ms. Heator's daughter.

The insurance company was listed as a defendant because Miller was uninsured.

The civil case also is assigned to Judge Franks.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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