MUNROE FALLS — Thursday morning was supposed to be a typical school morning for a Stow mom and two middle-schoolers.
Kathryn Vajda, her daughter Elise, 13, and friend Blake Bysura, 14, were on their way to Kimpton Middle School. Vajda was dropping off the eighth-graders before heading to the University of Akron, where she’s in her junior year studying to become a substance-abuse counselor.
Blake was expected to be the starting quarterback in that night’s football game, while Elise, in her second year playing lacrosse, was looking forward to seeing her friends at school.
Those plans derailed just before 7:30 a.m. when a pickup truck, filled with empty beer cans and with a mug of beer in a cupholder, crashed into the back of their Ford Focus less than a quarter-mile away from the middle school — an area where many students walk to school.
No one was seriously injured, and everyone walked away from the crash.
According to Munroe Falls police, the driver was more than four times over the legal limit. And court records show it’s not the first time the Portage County man has been accused of driving drunk.
“There are so many kids that walk on that road ... He so easily could have just ran a kid over, and it just makes me sick,” Vajda said. “I don’t want him to get away with this.”
Barton Baldasare, 46, of Kent faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and an additional first-degree misdemeanor charge of having a blood alcohol content above .17. He also faces minor misdemeanor charges of open container and assured clear distance.
An arraignment scheduled for Friday afternoon was continued until 1 p.m. Tuesday. Baldasare is out on a $2,500 personal recognizance bond.
His attorney, Troy Reeves, said in an email he did not know enough about the case to comment Friday afternoon. Reeves entered a written not guilty plea on Baldasare’s behalf Friday.
According to court records, Baldasare has faced similar charges in Portage County.
In a 2012 Kent case, he pleaded guilty to an OVI refusal second offense charge. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $725. His license was suspended for one year and he was put on probation for one year.
In a 2006 Streetsboro case, he pleaded guilty to an OVI charge and was sentenced to three days in jail and fined $250, and his license was suspended for a year.
Court records also show a 1997 case in which he was found guilty of driving under the influence. A driving while intoxicated case in 1992 — when Baldasare was 19 — was amended to a reckless operation charge, and he was found guilty.
Munroe Falls crash
The crash this week happened around 7:20 a.m. Thursday on North River Road.
Vajda, 45, a hairstylist at Nina/Michelle Salon in Twinsburg, was driving her 2019 black Ford Focus east on North River Road and was stopped in traffic near Charring Cross Drive. She let a car turn out in front of her off of Charring Cross.
Munroe Falls Police Officer Christina Laughlin said Baldasare, driving a red 2000 Ford Ranger pickup, crashed into the back of the Ford Focus, an impact that pushed it into the white Chevy Cruze that Vajda had let turn out in front of her.
“The sun was right in his eyes, so even though he had slow reaction time being impaired, the sun, he couldn’t even see them,” Laughlin said. “So by the time he did see them, he didn’t even try and brake. He just nailed them at about 35 miles per hour.”
According to a police report, Baldasare’s blood alcohol content was .337 — more than four times the legal limit. His license and vehicle were seized.
In the truck, police found 15 to 20 empty beer cans — Laughlin said it appeared they had accumulated for a while — and a cooler with ice and one unopened beer can. Police also found a plastic coffee mug with beer in it.
“He must have had it in his hand at the time of the crash,” said Laughlin, explaining the passenger seat was wet, the center console was splattered and it smelled like beer.
The front of the truck also caught fire and was put out with a fire extinguisher, Laughlin said.
Laughlin said Baldasare, who was driving home from work in Akron, might have had a broken wrist.
The driver of the Chevy Cruze, a North Canton woman, wasn’t injured, and the car sustained minor damage.
The Ford Focus was totaled, with the back end smashed in and the back windshield shattered.
Blake, seated in the back seat behind Vajda, smashed his face into the driver’s headrest, causing his cheek to swell and bruise.
After the crash, Blake called his mother, Melissa Bysura, 45, of Stow, who was getting ready for her day at Echo Hills Elementary School as an aide in one of the special needs rooms.
Bysura said Blake seemed calm and “very mechanical,” saying he was OK. She later learned he was in shock.
“Angels wrapped themselves around all of them somehow because the scene was just unbelievable,” she said.
All three are sore with bruises; Blake also has lower back pain. They all went to an urgent care center to be checked out.
Elise returned to school Friday, although her mother said she was “pretty terrified” to get in a car again. Blake stayed home Friday and will have to be cleared by a doctor before he can return to football — he missed Thursday night’s game but still attended to support his teammates.
Vajda said she hopes Baldasare never has a license or access to a car again. Bysura wants him to face felony charges.
“It’s by sheer luck that it was a car that stopped him and not all the little bodies that cross the street,” Bysura said. “I feel like there’s got to be a stop to this, and this should be a wake-up call to everybody, to the judge, the prosecution ... Something has to be done this time.”
Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, email@example.com and @EmilyMills818.