Jane Beathard Staff Writer
December 5, 2013
In a move that will abbreviate the criminal case and reduce civil liability, the Chicago trucker behind a chain-reaction accident that killed London businesswoman Robin Smith-Jones and another woman pleaded no contest on Wednesday, Dec. 4, to vehicular manslaughter charges.
Tony D. Smith, 42, was arraigned before Franklin County Municipal Judge Andrea C. Peeples who found the man guilty of two manslaughter counts, as well as failing to maintain an assured clear distance.
Peeples noted the seriousness of the case and ordered a pre-sentence investigation that will include input from families of Smith-Jones, 48, and Diana L. Schwab, 71, of Beavercreek.
Defense attorney Jeffery Poth said the court’s probation department will handle the investigation. Sentencing for Smith is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2014. However, that date may change.
Sgt. Carl Hickey of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office read a statement of facts surrounding the May 8 crash on Interstate 70 near the Hilliard-Rome Road exit as Smith stood before Peeples.
Smith was eastbound at the wheel of a 2006 Freightliner tractor-trailer rig about 9 a.m. when he failed to stop for a line of traffic backed up from an earlier accident at the Wilson Road exit. Hickey estimated the back-up was four miles long.
Smith’s rig sideswiped a 2005 Jeep Liberty before rear-ending Smith-Jones’ 2007 Pontiac Vibe, which in turn, rear-ended Schwab’s 2003 Toyota Camry. The Pontiac and Toyota were crushed between Smith’s rig and a 2005 Volvo tractor-trailer rig also stopped in the eastbound lane.
A 2011 Nissan Cube driven by Choctaw Lake resident Tara Windle, the fifth vehicle struck in the crash, sustained moderate damage when it was rear-ended by the Volvo rig.
Smith-Jones and Schwab died at the scene. Smith and Windle were treated and released from a local hospital.
Smith faces up to six months in jail and $1,500 in fines for the second-degree misdemeanor convictions.
A spokesperson for prosecutor Ron O’Brien could not elaborate on the misdemeanor charges and referred the issue to investigators in Sheriff Zach Scott’s office.
Smith’s no contest plea put a quick end to the criminal case and cannot be used in future civil cases. Those civil cases are either filed or looming.
On Wednesday, lawyers representing Smith’s Pennsylvania-based trucking company, Greatwide American Trans-Freight, were in the courtroom, as was an associate of Columbus attorney Robert Gray Palmer.
Palmer is acting locally for attorney Jeffrey Burns, who represents the family of Smith-Jones. Burns is advertised as “most respected truck crash litigator in the nation.”