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State of Ohio v. Jessica Renee Smith

September 26, 2011


CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING: Criminal Appeal from Stark County Court of Common Pleas Case No. 2010CR0196

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edwards, J.

Cite as State v. Smith,

JUDGES: W. Scott Gwin, P.J. John W. Wise, J. : Julie A. Edwards, J.


JUDGMENT: Affirmed In Part and Reversed and Remand In Part

[Cite as State v. Smith, 2011-Ohio-5095.]

{¶1} Defendant-appellant, Jessica Smith, appeals her conviction and sentence from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas on one count of vehicular homicide. Plaintiff-appellee is the State of Ohio.


{¶2} On or about March 15, 2010, the Stark County Grand Jury indicted appellant on one count of vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(3), a felony of the fourth degree. At her arraignment on March 19, 2010, appellant entered a plea of not guilty to the charge.

{¶3} Subsequently, a jury trial commenced on October 25, 2010. The following testimony was adduced at trial.

{¶4} Kim Haas, the manager of the Speedway gas station on Mahoning Road, in Canton, Ohio, was working on December 23, 2009, when she learned from a food steward and one of the cashiers that a customer had been injured. The injured customer was Maurice Gillespie. Haas testified that she assisted the police in investigating the accident by burning a DVD from the store surveillance at the time of the accident. The videotape showed Gillespie entering the Speedway to purchase his coffee and then leaving out the front door. As Gillespie exited the store, a dark car parked outside the entrance backed up and hit Gillespie. The car then departed, but left a passenger behind. Maurice Gillespie, who had a fractured shoulder and fractured hip, was taken to the hospital.

{¶5} According to Haas, the passenger, who turned out to be Steve Altier, appellant's boyfriend, helped Gillespie get inside the store. When Canton Police Officer Darrel Pierson arrived on the scene, Gillespie was sitting in a chair inside the Speedway doorway with medical personnel and firemen around him. According to the officer, Gillespie was in pain and was distraught. When Officer Pierson asked appellant what had happened, appellant stated that "he was walking through the parking lot and pretty much the bitch ran me over." Transcript at 170. After speaking with Altier, Officer Pierson developed the name "Renee Johnston" as the driver of the vehicle that had struck Gillespie.

{¶6} Canton Police Officer Michael Gary testified that he ran a computer search on Steve Altier who he had dealings with before. During the search, the officer discovered that Jessica Renee Smith was a known associate of Altier.

{¶7} At trial, Frank Altier testified that Steve Altier was his son and that, in December of 2009, his son was staying off and on with appellant. Frank Altier testified that, at around Christmastime, his son and appellant asked him to rent a car for him. He testified that he did not do so.

{¶8} The next witness to testify was Kurt Henley. Henley testified that in midDecember of 2009, he rented a car for appellant, whose driver's license had been suspended for not having insurance, from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Henley testified that appellant went with him to rent the car and that he rented the car for three days. On December 26, 2009, Henley was contacted by Enterprise Rent-A-Car after the car had not been returned. After appellant failed to return the car, Henley gave the car rental agency her address on Mahoning Road.

{¶9} Officer Kim Elliott of the Canton Police Department testified that, as part of the investigation, she went to Enterprise-Rent-A-Car to obtain rental agreement records for a 2009 black Chevy Impala that had been rented by Kurt Henley. While at the car rental agency, the officer retrieved items that had been taken from the car once it was towed from appellant's address. The items included a purse, diapers, baby items, clothing and lingerie.

{¶10} Brad Frank, the branch manager of the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car on Market and Ninth Street in Canton, testified that he was working in December of 2009. He testified that Kurt Henley rented a black Chevy Impala on December 16, 2009 and that, when the car was not returned, he went to Henley's house and told him that they needed the car back. After the car was not returned by the next morning, Frank called Henley who gave him appellant's address. Frank went to the address on December 29, 2009 and saw the car in the driveway. Frank testified that he knocked on appellant's door, but no one answered although he heard "rumblings" inside the apartment.

Transcript at 238. Frank then called the police and also called for a tow truck. According to Frank, appellant came out of the apartment and then went back inside. When a police officer arrived, Frank asked him if he could get the keys from appellant. Appellant, however, refused to open the door. Once the tow truck arrived, the car was towed and the personal belongings in the same were taken out of the car and labeled.

{¶11} Due to pulmonary emboli caused by trauma from the accident and the necessary immobilization, Gillespie died on December 30, 2009, and an arrest warrant was issued for appellant for causing his death. Officer Gary testified that after he arrested appellant on February 11, 2010, she said that she had no idea about the accident and denied knowing Steve Altier. She also denied knowing Kurt Henley, the man who had rented the car that she was driving.

{¶12} Detective Mike Volpe of the Canton Police Department testified that he knew Steve Altier and that, in February of 2010 while on patrol, he was dispatched in response to a trouble call during the afternoon. The Detective testified that witnesses had seen someone jump into the vehicle that was the subject of the trouble call and drive away. When Detective Volpe stopped the vehicle, he recognized Altier as the driver. Appellant and her children were in the back seat. According to the Detective, appellant appeared to know Steve Altier.

{ΒΆ13} Detective Sean Flaherty of the Canton Police Department testified that he was assigned to investigate the accident. Detective Flaherty testified that he spoke with Steve Altier's parents and that they told him that Renee Johnston was their son's girlfriend. The Detective was able to identify the car as a rental car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and determine that it was rented by Kurt Henley. When the Detective went to appellant's apartment, appellant had just come out of her apartment with her two kids and was starting to walk down the stairs. When he asked her if she was Renee Smith, appellant said no. The name on appellant's driver's license was Jessica R. Smith. Detective Flaherty asked appellant if the "R" stood for "Renee" and appellant indicated that she did not go by that name. When the Detective told appellant that he was there to talk to her about a traffic crash that occurred at Speedway, appellant stated that she was not involved in one and indicated that she did not drive. Appellant was not "real cooperative" and told the Detective that she would not answer any questions. Transcript at 369. Detective Flaherty later inspected the items that were retrieved from the repossessed rental car and testified that the items included a letter in the passenger seat addressed to "Steve Altier." ...

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