STOW — Supporters of a driver and two children who were involved in a crash with an alleged drunk driver in Munroe Falls last month said they were pleased that the charges against the accused offender are not being reduced by the prosecutor.
About 10 to 12 people were on hand for a pretrial for Barton E. Baldasare, 46, of Kent, in Stow Municipal Court Thursday afternoon. Baldasare did not appear in court, and neither did his attorney or the prosecuting attorney.
An attempt was made to reach Troy Reeves, Baldasare’s attorney, but he was not immediately available for comment.
Baldasare is facing first-degree misdemeanor charges of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and having a blood alcohol content above .17, as well as minor misdemeanor offenses of open container and assured clear distance ahead in a crash that occurred Sept. 19 on North River Road near Kimpton Middle School. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Munroe Falls Police said Baldasare allegedly crashed into the back of a car carrying Kathryn Vajda, 45; her daughter Elise, 13; and friend Blake Bysura, 14, who were on their way to school. No one was seriously injured, and everyone walked away from the crash.
Among the attendees at Thursday’s pretrial were Kathryn Vajda and Bysura, and others who came to support the victims.
As he spoke to the audience about the procedures Thursday, Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover was notified by a court employee that the attorneys in the case did not have anything to discuss with him and no events would occur at the pretrial.
"If [the prosecutor was] going to reduce the charges, it would’ve happened today," said Hoover to the court attendees.
The case is scheduled for a bench trial on Nov. 7 at 1:45 p.m. before Hoover.
Hoover told courtroom visitors on Thursday that he did not believe the trial would start on Nov. 7 because he felt motions to suppress evidence and/or a demand for a jury trial would be submitted. If any of those requests are filed, the trial would not start on Nov. 7, according to Beth Magelaner, Hoover’s bailiff.
Vajda said she was "thrilled" that the charges were not going to be reduced.
"I think it’s time that he suffer some major consequences," said Vajda, who noted her daughter Elise chose against attending the court proceeding. "I’m glad that hopefully he won’t have the opportunity to hurt anyone else in the near future ... I’m very frustrated about [Baldasare’s] history and how far back this goes."
She noted that even though she and the two children were not physically hurt, dealing with the aftermath of the crash had interrupted their lives.
After Thursday’s proceeding, supporters of the victims said they were happy that the charges were going to remain.
"I think it’s really good that the prosecutor is not reducing the charges," said Angela Frame, who noted that Bysura is her nephew.
Danielle Poling said she heard the crash happen outside her home and feared the worst.
"I heard the accident," said Poling. "That’s how hard they hit. You could hear the accident and I heard kids screaming. In my mind, someone just hit kids."
She added her children saw the crash happen and her daughter then had to walk to her bus stop past the aftermath of the crash.
"How do you explain to a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old what just happened outside your house?" asked Poling. "Especially when they see the truck catch on fire and they saw the guy not getting out of the vehicle. How do you tell them?"
Poling noted it was "very scary" knowing that her children are walking to a bus stop while someone is driving drunk through the neighborhood.
"This [crash] could very easily have been someone plowing into kids," added Poling.
Antoinette East-Jenkins said her son’s bus was stuck in traffic, waiting to pass the crash scene. She also noted there were children waiting at a bus stop who heard the crash and then, "immediately started calling parents because they didn’t know what they were hearing."
Children at both Lakeview Intermediate School and Kimpton Middle School were "traumatized all day from this one event," said East-Jenkins. She was also pleased that the charges were going to remain in place.
According to a police report on the Sept. 19 crash, Baldasare’s blood alcohol content was .337 — more than four times the legal limit. His license and vehicle were seized.
In the truck, police reported finding 15 to 20 empty beer cans, a cooler with ice and an unopened beer can and a plastic coffee mug with beer in it, which police said he was holding at the time of the crash.
According to court records, Baldasare, who was driving home from work in Akron when the Munroe Falls crash happened, has faced similar charges in Portage County stretching back to 1992.
Baldasare was arraigned on the charges in the Sept. 19 crash on Sept. 24, but was drunk for his appearance, according to court officials. After the arraignment on Sept. 24, Baldasare was scheduled to be fitted with a SCRAM alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet. Court officials, though, said it couldn’t be applied because the wearer must have a blood alcohol content of zero.
Baldasare was sent to the Cuyahoga Falls Jail Sept. 24 before returning the next day to appear before Magistrate John Clark and receive the ankle monitor. Court officials administered a breath test beforehand, but declined to release results. On Sept. 25, Clark ordered that the ankle monitor be placed on Baldasare and told him to not consume any alcohol or illegal drugs. Baldasare was released on a $25,000 personal recognizance bond.
GateHouse Media Ohio Reporter Emily Mills contributed to this story.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.