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Students to seek changes in laws

Friday, March 24, 2006

Students from Champion and Kirtland were fatally injured in the crash.
CHAMPION -- Students from Champion High School and Hiram College will travel to Columbus on Wednesday to meet with state lawmakers about changing drunk-driving laws.
Their visit occurs after two Hiram College freshmen died in a head-on collision with a pickup truck driven by a man with 11 previous drunk-driving arrests.
Andrew Hopkins, a Champion High School graduate, and Grace J. Chamberlain of Kirtland, both 18, died of injuries from the March 2 accident in Burton.
"Our biggest question is: Why?," said Erik Riffle, a Champion High School senior.
"Not only why did Andy have to die, but why was that guy on the road at all? I thought there were laws to put him away before he could kill my friend," Riffle said.
Another Hiram freshman, Evan C. DaSilva, 19, of North Kingston, R.I., who was in the car with Hopkins and Chamberlain, was injured but survived.
Students will attend a legislative criminal justice committee meeting and meet with lawmakers during the trip, which is being coordinated through the office of state Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd.
Sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 141, which passed the Senate and is pending in the House, will meet with students to explain how the bill would revise drunk-driving laws.
What happened
In the March 2 crash, the car carrying the students was northbound on state Route 700, when it was struck by the southbound pickup truck driven by James D. Cline, 47, of Burton.
Cline failed to negotiate a curve and went left of center while fleeing a Burton police officer, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Cline smelled strongly of alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated after the accident, the patrol said.
Cline, who is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, is being held without bond because his most recent arrest violated the terms of his probation for a previous DUI.
"We want the judges and lawmakers to know that we are watching," said Rob Gavazzi, a Hiram sophomore. "If it had been me instead of Andy, he'd be in Columbus already," Gavazzi concluded.