After more than seven months without seeing criminal charges related to the accident that killed 24-year-old Teresa Howell, her family and friends are expected to get the answer they’ve been waiting for — what, if any, charges will be filed against Douglas A. Jones, the 78-year-old truck driver. Among the survivors are her two young sons.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no charges had been filed with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. However, Union County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Justice said that could change today.
“The investigation’s still going on,” Justice said Wednesday. “Tomorrow we expect to have an answer as far as charges. We already have something scheduled. We’re getting close to getting answers for everyone.”
Justice said seeking closure has taken longer than some might have expected. He said autopsy results and “other investigative data” caused what may have seemed like a delay.
Howell was killed Dec. 7 in a hit-and-run crash that happened as she worked with a crew fixing guardrail along a highway in Union County. Despite no charges being filed against Jones, her family sued him. The lawsuit, filed March 27, seeks unspecified damages against the Mansfield man and Estep Express Inc. trucking of Lexington, both in Richland County.
According to the civil complaint filed in Union County Common Pleas Court, Howell, of Lake Erie Construction Co., was working Dec. 7 in the southbound lanes of U.S. 33 in Jerome Township. Orange traffic cones and warning signs had been set out, but the lawsuit says Jones failed to observe the signs and drove through the cones, hitting Howell.
Jones failed to stop, according to a Union County Sheriff's Office investigation. He was found a few hours later in Columbus, which is about 30 miles away from the accident scene.
The tractor and trailer — both owned by Estep Express — were in a warehouse area at 1580 Williams Road; that’s where authorities have said Jones was heading to “deliver his load.” The semi was hauling baby food or baby formula.
This wasn’t Jones’ first offense of this nature. A similar pedestrian fatality caused by Jones occurred just four months earlier along a Pennsylvania highway, for which he was fired. The lawsuit says Estep “negligently or wantonly” hired him anyway.
After the second fatality, however, the federal agency revoked Jones’ license to drive a commercial vehicle, deeming him an “imminent hazard.” But with only six points on his Ohio license, he is permitted to keep his driver’s license — at least for now.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby contributed to this story.