There Must Be Punishment
Richard Crabtree was killed Feb. 1 in a car accident. He left behind a wife and three children. The police found the witnesses to her husband's death and brought charges against the young man who ran a red light and killed him.
The prosecutor secured a conviction on the most-serious charge. The judge's sentence was as tough as the law allows. Jenny Crabtree knows and appreciates all of that. But in the matter of the state of Ohio v. Steven J. Tirpak, she also will argue that justice — for her, her husband, their three children — was not served.
"Our lives are totally destroyed, forever; and he got 90 days in jail," the Westerville woman said.
There is little question but that the death of Richard Crabtree was a tragedy, and that his survivors, his wife and three children, will suffer terribly for his loss. No question at all.
Tirpak, on the other hand, is an unremorseful mutt. Exactly how much of a mutt is unclear, but let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he's unworthy of carrying Crabtree's bags.
But note the description in the first sentence in the quote above, that Richard Crabtree was killed in a "car accident." Car accidents happen. Most of the time, they result in a smashed fender and over-heated tempers. Once in a while, an accident results in death. Sometimes, it's the death of a father of three. It's horrible. But it's not murder.
Because of her experience, Crabtree intends to lobby state lawmakers to strengthen vehicular-homicide punishments in Ohio. [Prosecutor Peter] Ruffing would not speak about the Tirpak case in any detail. He said it is his job to uphold existing laws, not to criticize them or lobby that they be changed, as Crabtree hopes to do. "That's certainly an understandable position by a widow," he said....
Crabtree said the six months since her husband's death have been financially and emotionally crippling. She looked into a civil lawsuit, but Tirpak has no assets. She can expect only $12,500 from his insurance company.
That Ohio permits a driver to carry minimum insurance in the amount of $12,500 may be described as a crime, but that's not the issue here. The problem here is that the crime committed by Tirpak is running a red light which resulted in death. No matter how awful the outcome, and how awful the defendant, may be,
The distinction between negligent conduct that has tragic results and conduct which is truly reckless is under assault. It would be one thing if a driver decided to close his eyes and blast through a red light at a busy intersection for kicks, much like shooting a gun into a crowd without any specific intent to kill anyone. But the unintended running of a red light, or any number of other vehicular infractions that may be wrongful but neither deliberate nor depraved, do not reflect a level of moral culpability that deserves criminal punishment. The trend, however, runs against this.
The public sensibility is that when the outcome is tragic, someone must pay. More to the point, the defendant in this case was unrepentant, had bad history and no assets, and was just a generally unlikeable defendant.
When the crash occurred, she prayed that the other driver would be remorseful and otherwise law-abiding. She could make peace with that. But Tirpak has a record of not abiding the law, and he did not apologize. He did not even look at her as she talked about her loss at sentencing. "What I got was the exact opposite," she said....
Had he been an otherwise upstanding citizen, Mrs. Crabtree might feel differently. This is certainly understandable. It leaves, however, the criminalization of conduct that would otherwise be taken as a mere accident to be determined by the nature and attitude of the defendant. Unlikeable people would be criminals whereas remorseful, law-abiding people would not. The law should criminalize conduct, not people we don't like.
It's impossible not to feel sympathy for what happened to Richard Crabtree. It's similarly impossible not to feel that Tirpak is a mutt. But what happened here, despite the death of a father of three, is undeserving of greater sanction than is appropriate for the act of running a red light, no matter how dislikeable the defendant may be. Yet it's cases like this that give rise to a legislative cry for harsher penalties for all the wrong reasons.