Former Yellow Creek trustee sentenced for vehicular assault
LISBON — Glenn A. McKenzie, a former Yellow Creek Township trustee, was sentenced Monday by Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Bickerton to 45 months in prison for a head-on crash that seriously injured an elderly couple in late 2018.
“I’m truly sorry,” McKenzie said prior to sentencing. “If I could take it back, I would change it. I’m really sorry. I wish I could change things around.”
McKenzie, 62, state Route 39, Wellsville, pleaded guilty in June to two counts of aggravated vehicular assault, two counts of vehicular assault and a charge of OVI. Special Prosecutor Margaret Tomaro said at the time of the crash that McKenzie was not just under the influence of alcohol, but had marijuana in his system. Tomaro also noted that when he met with the probation department, McKenzie still did not admit he has a problem with alcohol.
At the time of the crash, the highway patrol reported McKenzie was driving a 2010 Cadillac SRX north on state Route 39 on Dec. 7, 2018, when he ran off the right side of the road, over-corrected back onto the road and finally overturned left of center into a guardrail and a 2015 Chevy Equinox driven southbound by Donald Smith, 80, of Salineville.
Smith has since died after spending his remaining time in the hospital and nursing home care. His wife, Wilma Smith, who was the passenger in the vehicle, sent a letter to court for the family’s attorney to read on her behalf. Three other family members read statements as well.
In her written statement, Wilma Smith said McKenzie’s actions changed her life forever and he was responsible for the death of her husband, who was forced to stay mostly in a nursing home due to his need for round-the-clock care following the crash. She also said she spent their life savings caring for him there before his death.
“I lost my husband and my family lost their father and grandfather,” Smith’s statement said. “At least I know the roads will be safer for the three years he is incarcerated (the amount recommended in the plea agreement). I don’t want this to happen to another family.”
Members of the couple’s family and Tomaro spoke about McKenzie’s apparently unaddressed alcohol problems. McKenzie has been charged in the past with OVI, physical control of a vehicle while under the influence and reckless operation.
“His family says he made a mistake, but a mistake is something you do once and learn from it,” said the Smiths’ daughter, Kimberly Carman. “Mr. McKenzie has been charged multiple times with drinking and driving, but when he got behind the wheel that night it was his choice.”
Additionally, David Smith, Donald Smith’s son, said in a small community people hear things and he has heard stories about McKenzie paying people for damages to avoid charges due to sideswiping other vehicles or reporting a vehicle stolen after it was crashed. He does not believe McKenzie had any intention of stopping his drunk driving after getting away with it so many times in the past and asked Bickerton to consider giving McKenzie the maximum possible sentence for his crime.
Smith called his father the strongest person he ever knew, someone who has overcome pneumonia at a young age, a pulmonary embolism and colon cancer. His father went through surgeries and overcame insurmountable odds, adding his father’s fight for life was inspiring.
“After all these battles, fought and won,” Smith said, “all it took was one selfish person to steal the life he fought so hard for back then. That person was Glenn McKenzie. He did it because he wanted to get drunk and high and get behind the wheel.”
A granddaughter, Alexandra Thomas, also talked about her grandfather’s struggles after the crash, which left him with a severe brain injury and how he was fed through a tube for months. He struggled to say her name and could not attend her wedding.
“My grandpa was a fighter, but he fell victim to Glenn McKenzie, a drunk driver,” Thomas said, relaying that her grandparents were on their way home from a church Christmas party, while McKenzie was coming from a bar. “He lost his life because Glenn McKenzie wanted to party and have a good time … Glenn McKenzie stole my grandpa’s time and his memories.”
Carman and Thomas also spoke about Wilma Smith, who not only suffered lasting injuries in the wreck, but had lost her lifetime companion. The family seemed to all agree, the three-year recommended sentence was not enough.
One of McKenzie’s defense attorneys, Gerald Ingram, said everyone at the defense table felt deep regret for the losses of the Smith family. Ingram went on to ask the court to adopt the three-year agreement as a “fair, just and equitable sentence.” Ingram also talked about McKenzie’s health problems.
However, Bickerton chose to sentence McKenzie to an extra nine months after saying she believes no amount of time will fix what happened. She said she believes McKenzie to be a “functional alcoholic,” who despite drinking alcohol for years was able to be a productive citizen and serve the community holding elected positions.
“I’ve often said a mistake is made one time, after your first mistake it is a choice,” Bickerton said. “Mr. McKenzie, your choice was to drive under the influence … A mistake in hindsight, yes you wish you could take it back, but we can’t go back in time and change things.”
Instead, Bickerton said it is important to make the right choices, so you do not unintentionally hurt other people. She went on to suspend McKenzie’s license for life, taking away both his regular license and his commercial driver’s license, stating she never wants to see him behind the wheel of a vehicle again.