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The Journal Gazette

  • Votaw

Saturday, May 12, 2018 1:00 am

Sentencing delayed in deadly crash

Emotions run deep as loved ones speak for, against hit-run driver

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Justin Votaw sat nearly motionless Friday, his face muscles twitching as he held back tears.

He listened as people affected by a fiery, deadly crash last year outlined – often through tears and for nearly an hour – how their lives were changed.

The three-car crash happened on Feb. 20, 2017 – Julie Arseneau's birthday. Her daughter Alisa Arseneau, 24, was killed in the crash with Jonathan Tracy, 23, her daughter's boyfriend.

“Time has stopped,” Julie said in court Friday during a sentencing hearing for Votaw, who pleaded guilty in April to five counts – including three felonies – of leaving the scene of an accident.

“I will never celebrate another birthday with her again,” she said.

Votaw, 32, was driving a 2002 BMW west on West Jefferson Boulevard when he bumped a 2004 Volkswagen with Arseneau and Tracy inside, court documents said. The Volkswagen crashed head-on into an eastbound Chevrolet Equinox and burst into flames, the documents said.

It is not clear whether Votaw caused the accident, but he told investigators he was driving the BMW, which was owned by Ashley Burda, and fled after the crash.

“We'll never know if he was intoxicated because he fled the scene,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred said.

Votaw was scheduled to be sentenced Friday, but Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck postponed that until June 8.

Instead, tearful remembrances of lost loved ones and pleas to Surbeck to hand down tough sentences filled Courtroom 1 at the Allen County Courthouse. As each person spoke, Votaw looked at them and fought back tears.

Asked by Surbeck if he wanted to speak, Votaw stood and turned toward the families.

“I know nothing can bring back your children,” he said. “As a father I can't imagine what that's like. I am so sorry for your guys's loss, and I know sorry doesn't even matter.”

Randy Fisher, Votaw's lawyer, apologized to victims and said his client has consistently expressed remorse.

There were tears from Votaw's friends and family, too, as they said he is a dedicated father of three who is kind and helpful.

Keirstton Reiter said Votaw sat with her in the hospital following an emergency.

“There was always something that drew me to him,” she said. “There was always goodness in his heart.”

Debra and Tony Ferraro were in the Equinox and were injured when it collided with the Volkswagen.

Tony, through a sign language interpreter, asked the judge to send Votaw to prison.

“You have to really learn from your mistakes,” he said.

A passenger with Votaw, Randy Coleman, was also injured in the crash. Coleman told police he looked for Votaw after the accident but couldn't find him, a probable cause affidavit said.

Votaw could spend up to 141/2 years in prison on the felony counts if the sentences were ordered to be served back-to-back.

A lawsuit filed by the Ferraros against Votaw also is pending, The civil case alleges “serious physical injuries which may be permanent as well as ongoing pain and suffering.”

Tracy's estate, Geico insurance company and Burda – who allegedly “negligently entrusted her vehicle to (Votaw)” – are named as defendants. The Ferraros are seeking damages for medical expenses and lost wages.

A hearing in that case is scheduled for June 15, days after Votaw is sentenced.