Teen Driver in River Bend Crash Charged with Vehicular Assault
2 cars were speeding when crash happened near high school in April, police say.
The teenage driver of a car that crashed and rolled several times on River Bend Boulevard has been charged with aggravated vehicular assault.
Janel England, 17, of Ravenna, was charged today for an April crash that sent one of her passengers via medical helicopter to an area hospital with serious injuries.
The Portage County Prosecutor's Office recommended England be charged with aggravated vehicular assault, a fourth-degree felony, and reckless operation and speeding, both of which are minor misdemeanors.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said his office recommended the felony aggravated vehicular assault charge because England's driving recklessly caused serious physical harm.
The maximum sentence, if she is found guilty, is detention for as little as six months or up to her 21st birthday, Vigluicci said.
Report Details Crash
England was speeding in a 2002 Volkswagen Jetta while trying to pass a 1996 Dodge Ram pick-up truck on the tree-lined neighborhood street when the car hit the concrete curb of a landscape island, rolled several times and struck a tree, a Kent Police Department accident report said.
England and her two passengers, all of whom were juniors at Theodore Roosevelt High School, were injured, but Eva Toppen, the back-seat passenger, was ejected from the car during the rollover. Becca Kluge, England's other passenger, had to be flown by helicopter to Akron City Hospital. All three girls have since largely recovered from their injuries.
Both England and the truck's driver, Austin M. Mastroine, of Kent, had made the right-hand turn at the stop sign where Beechwold Drive intersects with River Bend Boulevard moments before the crash.
England tried to pass the truck because it was driving slowly, the report said. England accelerated and drove left of center to pass the truck. At the same time, Mastroine hit the accelerator, the report said.
At this point, both cars were approaching the first of three landscape islands in the middle of River Bend Boulevard.
England "attempted to merge back into the westbound lane between the first and second island when (the car) struck the curb of the second island near Rustic Bridge Drive," the report said.
That's when the car rolled several times and Toppen was ejected.
Mastroine drove away from the accident without stopping, police said.
Almost immediately after the crash, rumors started swirling as to whether teens racing each other is common in the River Bend neighborhood, which is just across the street from the high school.
Some residents have said it is, while some say it is not. Others preferred not to talk about it and declined to comment when reached by Kent Patch. One resident, who asked not to be identified, said the April crash was the first such incident she had seen.
Kent Police Capt. Paul Canfield said the department has had speeding complaints in the neighborhood but nothing like the April crash.
He said the rollover wasn't necessarily the result of a drag race or any other kind of horseplay.
"It’s possible," Canfield said. "But the other person driving slowly, and then her choosing to go on the wrong side of the street and drive at that speed, the culpability is all on her for that.
"I’ve heard of speeding complaints over the years, but not necessarily related to any specific age group," he said. "The behavior from this crash was a little bit beyond just speeding."
The police department is keeping a closer eye on the neighborhood, and that means drivers may see the city's speed enforcement radar trailer on River Bend Boulevard sporadically, or they may just see cop cars patrolling the area more frequently.
'Life is fragile'
Almost miraculously, all three girls involved in the rollover crash recovered.
All three, who will be seniors this coming school year, also were able to attend Roosevelt's prom about a month after the crash.
Kent City Schools Superintendent Joseph Giancola said he and two other students tried at the end of the school year to send the message to students that life is precious.
Giancola spoke to seniors at commencement ceremonies in June along with Ryan Anderson, a 2012 graduate who is battling cancer, and Shawnee Hamilton, whose brother Adam in May 2011 was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The title of the presentation was "Life is Fragile."
"One of the messages the seniors heard … was that our belief is life is very fragile," Giancola said. "Young people need to realize their life is as fragile as any age person."
Giancola said the crash could become one of the topics included in upcoming orientations at the start of the school year for classes at Theodore Roosevelt. In the year's final issue of The Colonel, the high school newspaper, Giancola also discussed the crash in an open letter to students.
"It certainly applies to driving, but it also applies to a lot of areas in life," he said. "Teenagers need to understand how fragile a balance we all live in."
Canfield said he hopes that at least the friends of the three students involved in the crash will realize such actions have potentially harmful consequences.
"Messing with what essentially can be a 2,000 pound or 4,000 pound weapon is not a joking or laughing matter," he said. “It’s not something to be taken lightly."
Editor's note: the name of the passenger transported via medical helicopter has been corrected in this story.