Civil case out of 2012 fatal wreck

Though the criminal case has been settled against the speeding teenage driver who took the life of a Newport Elementary School teacher and seriously injured her young grandson in April 2012, civil questions in the case still remain.

Jacob D. Minder, of New Matamoras, was 18 years old with two previous driving infractions, including a recent speeding violation, when his grandmother Louella Minder loaned him the truck he was driving during the April 28 crash. It killed 58-year-old Laura Hoff and injured her grandson, who was 2 years old at the time.

Whether or not Louella Minder is responsible for some of the monetary damages resulting from that accident is a question Laura Hoff’s family is hoping to have heard during a jury trial in Washington County Common Pleas Court. But first Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals would have to reverse a previous ruling by Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane to dismiss the case, explained Marietta attorney Ethan Vessels, who represents the Hoff family.

“We are asking the court of appeals to reverse the trial court (decision) so that we do get an actual trial,” Vessels said Wednesday.

Paperwork filed in the case shows a request for more than $25,000 in damages but provides no specific number.

In his decision to dismiss the case, Lane concluded that the plaintiffs lacked proof of two essential elements of a negligent entrustment case-that the entrustee was incompetent and that the vehicle owner knew of this incompetence.

Last week, Vessels argued for that reversal before a meeting of the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Washington County, citing that the severity and immediacy of Jacob’s two previous driving infractions were sufficient grounds for an incompetency finding.

Within the month preceding the accident, Jacob had a significant speeding violation which Louella knew about, said Vessels.

“That moving violation was very significant. It was very close in time…It wasn’t a little speeding. It was a lot,” said Vessels.

Jacob was ticketed for driving 82 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone, and had yet to be adjudicated in Washington County Juvenile Court on the charge. He had already received a short suspension for a stop sign violation and would likely have received a new suspension on the speeding charge, Vessels speculated.

Louella Minder’s attorney, Matt Mullen of New Philadelphia, argued that Louella’s personal observations of Jacob’s driving indicated he was a good driver. Aside from the driving violations, Jacob had an otherwise impressive track record as a responsible young man and good student, Mullen argued to the trial court.

“He had a prior stop sign and prior speeding violation,” Mullen said Wednesday. “There are a lot of people that have traffic tickets, and courts have held time and time again that that’s just not enough (to prove wrongful entrustment).”

Both attorneys cited various prior judicial decisions supporting their case to the appellate court, which will hand down a written decision in the coming weeks.

Jacob’s insurance did cover a portion of the damages, said Vessels Wednesday.

Jacob, now 20, has completed his criminal sentence on the case, serving 175 days in the Washington County Jail and performing five days of community service on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of vehicular homicide. An additional 180 days in the first-degree misdemeanor assault case was suspended in lieu of probation.