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SOUTHWEST OHIO Widow persuades judge to keep high schooler out of jail



Published: Sat, June 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 18-year-old killed the woman's husband by causing a four-car pileup.

HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) -- Although still saddened by the loss of her husband in a car crash, a widow in Southwest Ohio has concluded that the high school student who caused the accident doesn't deserve to go to jail.

A judge agreed.

In an unusual, emotional hearing, Butler County Juvenile Court Judge David Niehaus on Friday reconsidered a 90-day jail sentence and allowed Joe Ehler to remain free as long as he obeys court orders.

Ehler, 18, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a charge of vehicular homicide. Police said Ehler was driving 60 mph in a 40-mph zone when he caused a four-vehicle pileup Nov. 22 in Hamilton that killed Grace Marie Eckman's 49-year-old husband, Daniel.

The judge said that her "change of heart" influenced his decision to keep Ehler out of jail.

Grace Marie Eckman met with Ehler in a two-hour victim-offender mediation session May 17. Eckman wrote the judge that she met a "very sorrowful, remorseful young man caught between living his life and mourning the life he took."

The next day, Eckman sat with Ehler as he spoke about his sorrow to an assembly of his fellow students at Badin High School in Hamilton, about 20 miles north of Cincinnati.

"He's obviously impressed a lot of people," Judge Niehaus said. "He's going to do a lot more for this community out, than sitting in a jail cell."

Court administrator Rob Clevenger said in his 23 years with the juvenile court he couldn't remember a time when a victim came forward and asked a judge to stay a sentence.

Under the judge's orders, Ehler cannot drive until his driver's license suspension expires on his 21st birthday. He also must spend 150 hours talking to teen groups about safe driving and pay $7,753 restitution to cover expenses for Daniel Eckman's funeral.




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