By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN — Keith Urso will remain in Trumbull County jail for at least the next week while attorneys prepare to argue why the Warren man with 14 drunken-driving convictions should or should not be kept away from the public.
Urso was charged with felony Operating a Vehicle Impaired on Jan. 31 after a concerned motorist followed him along Bazetta Road to a Mecca restaurant while talking on her cell phone to 911.
With her help, a Trumbull County deputy sheriff located Urso at Monty’s Carry Out and Restaurant, arrested him and measured his blood-alcohol level at 0.286 — more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.
The case prompted Dennis Watkins, Trumbull County prosecutor, to file a motion in common pleas court Wednesday asking that Urso be kept in jail while his criminal case makes its way through the courts.
Watkins said Urso’s many drunken-driving convictions make him a danger to the public.
Watkins said Thursday the motion asks Judge Andrew Logan to apply a provision of Ohio law enacted in 1998 to deny bond to a repeat OVI offender.
It was used in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in 2002 by Judge R. Scott Krichbaum to keep Youngstown woman Janell Thomas in jail without eligibility to make bond, Watkins said. In that case, Thomas, who was later convicted of killing her infant son, posed a threat to the safety of another of her children, Judge Krichbaum said.
On Thursday, Urso pleaded innocent in court to two counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and a specification that he was a repeat offender. Each charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Judge Logan said Urso will remain in jail until at least a Feb. 19 hearing to determine whether the judge should set a bond amount.
Atty. Anthony Consoldane, a public defender who represented Urso on Thursday, said the attempt to deny bail to Urso also denies the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” and seems more suited to Third World countries than the United States.
Heather Day of Warren, daughter of Urso’s girlfriend, said after the hearing she doesn’t understand why the events of Jan. 31 have triggered this type of response.
“If somebody would have gotten hurt, I could see something being done about it. They’re acting like he killed somebody,” she said.
The Rev. Kenneth Hopkins of Champion, however, whose son Andy was killed by 11-time drunken-driving offender James D. Cline in 2006, said he supports Watkins’ efforts.
“I think at some point in time the courts need to take a step to protect the public,” he said outside the courtroom after Urso’s hearing.
Mike Burnett, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said his research shows that there are Ohio residents who have been convicted of as many as 20 drunken- driving offenses.
Urso was convicted of vehicular homicide for a 1982 accident that occurred while Urso was intoxicated, Watkins said. Vindicator files say that Nadine Foster of Elm Road, Warren, died in the accident, which occurred when Urso, then of West Farmington, was 22 years old. Urso’s car hit a hay wagon on which Foster was riding.
Urso was sentenced to one year in prison in 2006 after being convicted of drunken driving.