Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 30, 2012

Judge: Driver who hit ambulance guilty of texting

VERNON TOWNSHIP — A Cochranton area woman has been found guilty of crashing a Dodge Durango into an ambulance when she sent a text message via telephone while driving.

Lori Sue Bell, 37, of 28191 Deckards Road, Cochranton, was found guilty by Magisterial District Judge Michael Rossi following a 35-minute hearing Thursday morning on three separate traffic counts of careless driving, texting while driving and failing to stop for an emergency vehicle entering its garage. Bell was ordered by Rossi to pay a total of $298 in fines and costs for her conviction on all three counts.

Cochranton Police Department cited Bell for striking a Cochranton Volunteer Ambulance Service ambulance Oct. 17 when the ambulance was readying to back into its station at 113 E. Adams St. in the borough.

The crash caused more than $17,000 worth of damage to the one of the department’s two ambulances, according Cochranton Volunteer Ambulance Service. The damaged unit remains out of service since the crash more than a month ago.

Telephone records from Bell’s phone presented at the hearing in Vernon Township indicated she sent a text message via phone one minute before the crash was reported to the Crawford County 911 Center. Bell claimed she wasn’t texting at the time and that her phone delayed in sending out text messages because it was damaged.

Chief Dan Bresee of Cochranton Volunteer Ambulance Service testified he was driving the vehicle back from a state inspection and a refueling stop when the accident occurred. Bresee said he had turned on the ambulance’s emergency lights and had angled the ambulance on the street to begin backing it into the vehicle’s garage bay when the ambulance was struck.

Bresee said when he got out of the ambulance to check on the driver of the vehicle that struck the ambulance, Bell, he noticed Bell had a cell phone in her hand and was looking down at it.

Bill Stearns testified he drove past the ambulance in the opposite direction on East Adams Street. As he passed the ambulance, Stearns said he noticed the red emergency lights on it activate. Stearns said he stopped for a red traffic light at the intersection of Adams and Franklin streets and moments later he heard a crash behind him and saw the ambulance and van damaged.

Cindy Bresee, Bresee’s wife, who was outside of the ambulance station at the time of the accident, testified she saw the emergency lights on the ambulance activate after the ambulance was in position to back into the garage bay. She testified the ambulance wasn’t moving when it was struck in the right side by a blue van driven by Bell.

Mrs. Bresee testified she, too, checked Bell after Bell’s vehicle struck the ambulance to see if Bell was injured and noticed Bell looking down at a cell phone in Bell’s hands.

Chief Heather Beachy of Cochranton Police testified when she arrived on the scene, she saw the ambulance was damaged on its right side including both the passenger’s door and the patient transport area of the vehicle, and that Bell’s vehicle was farther up the street and damaged as well.

Beachy testified she interviewed Bell at the scene, asking Bell if Bell had seen the emergency lights on the ambulance activate. Bell told Beachy she didn’t know, Beachy testified. Beachy testified Bell got defensive and argumentative when asked if Bell was texting.

Beachy testified Bell’s phone records showed a text message was sent from Bell’s phone at 5:41 p.m. Oct. 17. Phone records from the Crawford County 911 Center showed the center was alerted about the accident at 5:42 p.m. Oct. 17, Beachy testified. Testimony didn’t indicate who called the Crawford County 911 Center about the crash.

Bell testified the ambulance was stopped but didn’t have its emergency lights on at the time of the crash.

Bell testified that as she was attempting to pass the ambulance, the ambulance made a sharp right turn into traffic and struck her vehicle.

Asked if she was texting while driving, Bell said she wasn’t and that her cell phone had been damaged from being dropped several times, claiming “it delays sending (text) messages.”

Following the hearing, Dan Bresee told a Tribune reporter the accident had caused $17,200 worth of damage to the ambulance.

The ambulance, one of two owned and operated by Cochranton Volunteer Ambulance Service, has been out of service and under repair the past six weeks since the accident, Bresee said. He said the ambulance is expected to return to service within a couple of weeks.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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