The driver of a semi-truck involved in a crash that claimed the life of a Tolles student in March was sentenced last week to community service and probation.
Michael Whetstone, 42, of South Charleston, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, a second-degree misdemeanor in this case, in Madison County Municipal Court on Oct. 11.
He was sentenced to 50 hours community service, two years probation, one year license suspension with work privileges and 30 days in Tri-County Regional Jail. He also has to pay a fine and court fees, totaling $1,359.
Whetstone was driving 60 mph on U.S. Route 42 when he hit an SUV being driven by 18-year-old Zachary George, according to a crash report. The speed limit in an active school zone is 20 mph.
The Plain City student was turning left into the parking lot of Tolles Career & Technical Center when he was struck by the oncoming semi-truck.
Whetstone was hyperventilating immediately after the crash, according to a witness statement. He kept repeating, “Why did that boy turn in front of me?”
The difference between a felony and misdemeanor when it comes to vehicular manslaughter comes down to recklessness versus negligence, according to Madison County assistant prosecutor Nick Adkins.
Ohio law states dictates that speeding in and of itself is not enough to make an offense considered reckless, he said.
“This wasn’t a judgment call on behalf of the prosecutor’s office,” Adkins explained. “The factors to elevate it (from a misdemeanor to a felony) simply weren’t present.”
As a result of this tragedy, flashing lights were installed in the school zones of Tolles, Madison-Plains and Jonathan Alder junior and high school in an effort to get drivers to slow down during restricted times.
Tolles initially contacted the Ohio Department of Transportation about the need for flashers in 2013, but upgrades had not been made at the time of the incident.
The lights were installed less than a month after the fatal crash.
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615.