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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Driver sentenced to 4 1/2 years for role in fatality

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Attorney Jerome Phillips, right, confers with his client, Rodney Lewis, after sentencing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. Lewis was driving a car that triggered a fatal chain-reaction crash. Attorney Jerome Phillips, right, confers with his client, Rodney Lewis, after sentencing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. Lewis was driving a car that triggered a fatal chain-reaction crash.
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Rodney Lewis' driving record showed "a guy who likes his drinks and a guy who speeds," a judge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court said Wednesday.

"[Driving] is a privilege and the rule is you don't drink and drive," Judge Gene Zmuda said. "… It was a combination of your drinking and your speeding that resulted not just in the death of someone but also serious injuries to another."

Lewis, 40, of 5007 Golden Rd. was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for causing the chain-reaction crash March 6 that killed one woman and severely injured another. Judge Zmuda also suspended his license for 20 years.

Authorities said Lewis was northbound on Reynolds Road about 6 p.m. when he struck the rear of a vehicle stopped at a stoplight at Angola Road. The force of the impact created a chain-reaction that caused damage to three vehicles.

Lewis was traveling 60 mph in a 45-mph zone and never tried to stop, authorities said.

The first car hit was driven by Rita Caufman, 66, of Perrysburg.

Both Ms. Caufman and her passenger, Sally Palmer, then 72, of Perrysburg, were taken to a hospital. Ms. Caufman died several weeks later from her injuries.

Responding officers noted that Lewis exhibited signs of intoxication after the crash. His blood alcohol content taken about five hours after the crash was 0.10 percent.

In Ohio, a driver is legally intoxicated with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level.

Lewis pleaded no contest in September to one count each of aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault.

Mrs. Palmer as well as members of Ms. Caufman's family appeared in court, surrounded by many supporters. Mrs. Palmer's statement to Judge Zmuda was read by a victim advocate on her behalf and told how in just a matter of seconds her life changed forever.

Noting that she has suffered physically, financially, and emotionally as a result of the crash, Mrs. Palmer noted in the statement that Lewis' "poor judgment changed the lives of three families forever."

"Perhaps the most painful emotional impact has been the loss of one of my best friends," read Areti Tsavoussis, director of the prosecutor's office's Victim Assistance Division, while Mrs. Palmer stood beside her. "Rita and I had been friends for over 30 years and had shared many great times. … I miss her every day and can't believe she was the victim of such a needless accident."

Ms. Caufman's son, Michael, also spoke in court. Mr. Caufman noted that although his mother was "maintained for 17 days" in the hospital after the crash, "for all intents and purposes, Mom's life ended that day."

"She was greatly loved and adored by her family and friends," he said. "… She truly was one of the good ones."

Both Ms. Palmer and Mr. Caufman asked the judge to send Lewis to prison but noted that, more importantly, they believed he needed help with his alcohol addiction.

Lewis told Judge Zmuda that he is full of sorrow, remorse, and guilt. He said he was told that the victims' families wanted to know what led up to the crash and so explained that he was working extra hours in two jobs and had stayed out late the night before to watch his teenage daughter in sports.

That day, he explained he went to a restaurant with his sons to watch a ball game.

"I do not remember the accident at all. I believe I fell asleep at the wheel and the force of the airbag awoke me to the damage I caused," he said.

Lewis said he has been attending Alcohol Anonymous meetings since the crash and had spoken to youth about his actions.

He said he learned that as a teacher, Ms. Caufman was an avid supporter of students and so with that in mind, he sought out youth to share his message.

"I wanted to tell them that there are some mistakes that cannot be undone," he said.

"… I'm just really sorry about everything. I'm ashamed about what happened. I'm a better person than that and everybody here deserves better than this," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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