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State v. Stout

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Athens

October 16, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, CITY OF ATHENS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CRAIG STOUT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Ralph C. Buss, Painesville, Ohio for Appellant

          Lisa A. Eliason, Athens City Law Director, and Jessica L. Branner, Athens City Prosecutor, Athens, Ohio for Appellee.


          HOOVER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Craig Stout ("Stout") appeals the judgment of the Athens County Municipal Court convicting him of a violation of Athens City Code 7.04.01(A), Assured Clear Distance Ahead ("ACDA"). Stout was sentenced to a $40 fine; and he was ordered to pay court costs. On appeal, Stout argues that his conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

         {¶ 2} After reviewing the record, we conclude that Stout's conviction is not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 3} On August 11, 2016, Lieutenant Adam L. Claar served Stout with a complaint citing Stout with a violation of Athens City Ordinance 7.04.01(A), ACDA. On September 29, 2016, the case proceeded to a bench trial. The following evidence was presented, in relevant part:

         {¶ 4} Lesa A. Withers ("Withers") testified that on August 1, 2016, she was involved in a traffic accident on North Court Street in Athens, Ohio in which she collided with Stout. Withers was at the traffic light facing east at the intersection of West Washington Street and Court Street by the Sheriff's office. Withers testified that she turned left into the left hand lane of North Court Street and immediately merged into the right hand lane. Withers merged right on North Court Street because she wanted to park in a vacant parking space located on the right hand side of the road.

         {¶ 5} Withers claimed that before she merged into the right hand lane, it was clear. Withers testified that she did not see motorcycles in her rearview mirror. She glanced in her rearview mirror and "nobody was there"; however, as she was pulling into the parking spot, the motorcycle driven by Stout came "up to [her] right and came all the way down to the side of [her] right of [her] car. Body slammed the parking meter. And struck the right fender of [her] car." The hubcap on Withers's vehicle was also damaged as a result of the collision with Stout's motorcycle.

         {¶ 6} Next, Lieutenant Adam Claar ("Lt. Claar") testified. Lt. Claar was the officer who investigated the crash. When Lt. Claar arrived on the scene, Stout was on the ground with a leg injury; and Withers's vehicle was stopped. Lt. Claar spoke to both Withers and Stout; and he also took photographs at the scene of the incident. Lt. Claar opined that the crash occurred at a low speed and that the point of impact was "right in the area of the parking spaces." Lt. Claar believed that the crash occurred in the parking spot, not the lane of travel.

         {¶ 7} As a part of Lt. Claar's investigation, he obtained video footage from Lucky's Bar, the Athens County Courthouse and the City of Athens from cameras located at Court and Washington Street. During the bench trial, the Lucky's video was played. Lt. Claar testified during the video that Withers was "clearly in the right lane" and then Stout's "vehicle comes into the right of it." Lt. Claar testified to his recollection of the contents of the city's video. Lt. Claar testified that the video showed Stout "taking off [from the stop light] at a higher rate of speed and operating his vehicle too fast to bring it to a stop in a congested uptown area."

         {¶ 8} Lt. Claar charged neither Withers nor Stout on the day of the incident because he did not have all the facts. Both Withers and Stout gave different versions of the occurrence; therefore, Lt. Claar followed-up by obtaining the video footage. Lt. Claar explained that the Lucky's video demonstrated that Withers's vehicle was clearly in the right hand lane; and Withers was ahead of Stout.

         {¶ 9} Stout provided a different version of the incident. Stout is a mechanic who works at the Harley shop in Athens. Stout was also a helicopter mechanic in the Marine Corps in Iraq. Prior to the collision on North Court Street, Stout and his father were riding their motorcycles. They were side by side behind a silver car that was stopped facing north at the red light at the intersection of Court Street and Washington Street. Beside the silver car was a red car. When the light changed from red to green, the silver car "was moving faster than the red car to its right." Stout decided that "there was a gap large enough for [his] motorcycle…to traverse through." Thus, Stout decided to change his lane and travel into the right lane ahead of the red car. Stout testified that because he was planning to make a right turn onto Carpenter Street at the end of Court Street, he wanted to get in the right lane as soon as possible so that he would not "have to fight later on."

         {¶ 10} Stout explained that he got into the right lane almost immediately at the other side of the intersection of Court Street and Washington Street. As Stout was going around the silver car, he noticed Withers's vehicle coming over towards the lane. Stout proceeded to "move as far to the right hand side of the lane as [he] possible could which, in turn, ended up being the parking spot." As soon as Stout began to enter the parking spot to try to avoid Withers's vehicle, the crash occurred. Stout testified that his motorcycle made impact with the vehicle from the front left peg all the way to the front axle of the bike. Stout's front axle made the hole in the middle of Withers's hubcap. Stout explained that he was not trying to pass Withers, "other than the fact that she was already in ...

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