No Charges in Fatal Ohio Fire Truck Crash

MASSILLON, Ohio -- No criminal charges will be filed in a crash involving a fire truck and a minivan last month that took the lives of a Massillon man and his 4-year-old grandson.

Special Prosecutor Frank Forchione said there was not enough evidence to charge the driver of the fire truck, Susan Toles, 47, in the crash. Forchione, who serves as the Canton City Prosecutor, was appointed to the case because it involved city of Massillon employees.

"This case is a tragedy in many ways. First of all, it's my understanding the victim and the driver are relatives (cousins)," Forchione said.

Forchione said he interviewed several witnesses and reviewed the Ohio Highway Patrol's crash report over the last couple of weeks before reaching his decision. The truck was responding to a vehicle fire May 6 when it struck and killed Ronald E. Anderson, 72, and his grandson, Javarre Tate, 4, as they were crossing the Johnson Avenue Southeast intersection on Walnut Road near the William Malloy Head Start.

The truck had been dispatched to a fire in the 1200 block of Huron Street and was trailing another fire truck. Toles had activated the truck's emergency lights and sirens. Anderson's minivan was pushed almost an entire street block before stopping.

Forchione said there is "credible evidence" that Ronald Anderson, 72, pulled into the path of the truck.

"There's no question the fire truck was operating with its lights and sirens on," Forchione said. "The accident reconstruction evidence found the (truck's) speed to be reasonable when responding to an accident."

Forchione also confirmed that Anderson had hearing problems.

"I think once the first fire truck went by he may have thought that was the end of the situation," he said.

Massillon Fire Chief Tom Burgasser said Monday afternoon he had not been informed of Forchione's decision.

"I don't have any comment officially," he said.

Jim Mannos, attorney for the Anderson family, could not be reached for comment Monday. Cynthia Anderson, Ronald's wife, also declined to comment, referring all questions to Mannos.

Capt. Rick Annen, 53, and firefighters Jason C. Castile, 32, and Ernest S. Bard II, 29, were passengers. Toles remains on injury leave, according to Burgasser. He does not know when Toles is expected to return to work.

The other firefighters on the truck returned to work shortly after the incident, he said.

The Ohio Highway Patrol investigated the crash and determined that the fire truck was traveling at a "reasonable" speed of 45 to 50 mph, Forchione said. A Crash Reconstruction Unit was able to determine speed through evidence at the scene. Lt. Eric Sheppard, of the Highway Patrol's Canton Post, said the agency deferred to the prosecutor's office as to whether charges should be filed.

"Our job is to present the facts and submit them to the prosecutor," Sheppard said.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine if Anderson could have seen or heard the fire truck, Sheppard said.

In three of the four crash scenarios reconstructed by the Highway Patrol, the driver should have been able to do so, Sheppard said.

"As long as they were operating under reasonable conditions, and they were running their lights and sirens at that particular time, they should have seen or heard the truck," Sheppard said. "Therefore, the van should have yielded the right of way to the truck."

Burgasser declined to say whether the department plans to implement any changes in its response to fires in the wake of the fatal crash.

"We are continually reviewing policies and procedures. We don't know what to base that on (changes)," he said. "We wanted to wait for the investigation to conclude. We need a baseline to work off of."

Republished with permission of The Independent.

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