A man was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for driving drunk and causing a 2015 traffic crash that killed Washington Court House man, William “Billy” Rankin.
Jason B. Woolley, 39, of Washington Court House, plead guilty Monday in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas to aggravated vehicular homicide and operating a motor vehicle under the influence.
Woolley was driving a 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer southbound on State Route 41 North in Jefferson Township at approximately 2:30 a.m. March 14, 2015.
According to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, Jesse Allen Jr., 49, of Hermitage, Tenn., was driving a 2015 Freightliner semi-tractor trailer and was pulling out of the parking lot of the Flying J truck stop onto State Route 41 North when Woolley’s Trailblazer struck the semi-trailer as it crossed both lanes of State Route 41.
Woolley and his passenger, William “Billy” Rankin, were trapped inside the Trailblazer and were extricated using the “Jaws of Life.” Woolley was transported to the Miami Valley Medical Center for treatment of his injuries. Rankin was transported to the Adena Medical Center in Jamestown where he was pronounced dead, reported Vernon Stanforth, Fayette County Sheriff.
Allen, the operator of the semi-trailer, reported no injuries at the time of the crash.
Following the fatal accident, Woolley temporarily relocated to Las Vegas, Nev.
“With the assistance of the Clark County, Nevada Metropolitan Police Department and the United States Marshal Service, Mr. Woolley was taken into custody in the state of Nevada without incident,” said Stanforth. Following an extradition hearing, the U.S. Marshal Service assisted in returning Woolley to Ohio, where he was released to Fayette County deputies Feb. 10 and spent 61 days in the Fayette County Jail.
Woolley was scheduled for trial in April; trial was continued and set for August, but Woolley showed up in court just a day before his trial was set to begin and told Steven Beathard, Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Judge, that he wanted to fire his attorney, Kathryn Hapner. Upon Woolley’s unexpected announcement to fire Hapner, Beathard revoked Woolley’s bond and he was sent to jail Aug. 1 for four days until bond was posted.
He was back in jail Oct. 17.
Woolley’s jury trial was scheduled for Tuesday, but he agreed to plead Monday to a sentence recommended by the state of Ohio.
During sentencing, Hapner, Woolley’s attorney, said he has had a drinking problem and the fact that his mother was an alcoholic has been a painful issue for him.
“This will affect him for the rest of his life,” said Hapner. She said Billy Rankin was Woolley’s best friend.
Prior to being jailed, Hapner said Woolley had been working everyday. “He’s not a bad guy,” said Hapner. She added that Woolley has two children of his own to support. “He’s been a good father to them. He does have an issue that he needs to address. He needs to get that under control so he can be as productive as he has been in the past.”
Woolley addressed the court and said, “I would trade places with him in a heartbeat. I can’t change the past. All I can do is look to the future. I just want to be a good father and get help for my drinking.”
To members of Rankin’s family, who were present in the courtroom during the sentencing, Woolley addressed them. Beathard told him to turn around and face them. Crying, Woolley said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…I’ll never forget him. From the bottom of my heart, I’m so sorry.”
Rankin’s family stood and spoke in court.
“I understand where he’s coming from, I really do, but I want the court to understand where we’re coming from,” said Rankin’s sister. “I lost my brother, my parents lost their son…I think the time in jail, in penitentiary, is exactly what he needs for what he did to my family. I think being rehabilitated is what he needs.”
For the state, Jess Weade, Fayette County Prosecutor, said, “We’re not claiming this was done with malice,” and said the state was recommending the four-year prison sentence.
Beathard said in determining Woolley’s sentencing he was taking into consideration the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the family. He said he found the seriousness of the crime more serious because of the OVI charge.
“You can’t ignore the fact that he was under the influence of alcohol,” said Beathard, and added, “I do find that he is genuinely remorseful.”
For pleading guilty to the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, a third-degree felony, Beathard ordered Woolley to serve four years in prison. Woolley additionally received three years of post-release control and a 10-year suspension of his Ohio driver’s license.
For pleading guilty to the OVI charge, a first-degree misdemeanor, Beathard ordered Woolley to 180 days in the Fayette County Jail, to run concurrent with the prison sentence, and gave Woolley a $375 fine and a three-year class five driver’s license suspension.
Woolley was credited with 107 days of jail time credit in the Fayette County Jail and was ordered to be transferred to Corrections Reception Center in Orient, Ohio to commence the rest of his sentence.
At the conclusion of Woolley’s sentencing, Beathard said that from someone running a stop sign, to people who drive under the influence, “We have a tremendous number of vehicular homicides in this court.”
Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton
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