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Relatives of woman killed by truck in work zone file lawsuit

By DEAN NARCISO • May 10, 2019 at 1:00 PM

The family of a 24-year-old mother of two who was killed in a hit-and-run crash while fixing a guardrail in Union County in December has sued the 78-year-old truck driver who hit her.

The lawsuit filed March 27 seeks unspecified damages against Douglas A. Jones, of Mansfield, and Estep Express Inc. trucking of Lexington, both in Richland County.

According to the civil complaint filed in Union County Common Pleas Court, Teresa 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 and inflicting trauma “to nearly every part of her body.”

Jones failed to stop, according to a Union County Sheriff's Office investigation. He was found a few hours later about 30 miles away in Columbus.

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.

The lawsuit says Estep knew about a similar pedestrian fatality caused by Jones four months earlier along a Pennsylvania highway, for which he was fired and that Estep had “negligently or wantonly” hired him anyway.

Treasurer Mike Bleile, of Lake Erie Construction, confirmed Jones’ identity and similar accusations in a statement to the Reflector in April.

“We understand from reports that Mr. Jones was involved in a very similar accident less than six months prior to the day that Teresa Howell died. That accident occurred on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania in July of 2018,” Bleile said.

In the July 2, 2018 crash along Interstate 81 in Lebanon County, Pa., Jones hit and killed a man who was standing in the berm near his disabled truck. Jones was convicted of careless driving causing a death, plus other charges, but the penalties were equivalent to traffic tickets, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Justin Summa earlier told The Columbus Dispatch.

The in-cab video showed Jones appearing alert and singing to himself just before impact, Summa said. The trooper also said Jones showed little remorse.

Estep Express “owed a duty to take steps to determine the competency of its drivers to operate a commercial vehicle,” according to the lawsuit.

Howell, of Greenwich, is survived by two sons, ages 6 and 4.

In a response filed in court last week, Jones’ attorneys deny he was negligent or that Estep Express broke any law by hiring him. There is no age limit on truck drivers as long as they pass physical examinations. Nor are there hiring restrictions based solely on previous accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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 was permitted to keep his driver’s license.

The sheriff's investigation was completed recently. Criminal charges haven’t yet been filed against Jones in Union County.

“The investigation is complete involving the fatality and Mr. Doug Jones. The case has been turned over to the prosecutor and it’s my understanding they are reviewing it, but it is not yet scheduled for grand jury,” Chief Deputy Tom Morgan told the Reflector on Thursday.

Union County Prosecutor David Phillips couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby contributed to this story.

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