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Cleveland firefighter’s death leads lawmakers to seek tougher vehicular homicide penalties

Ohio House members added an amendment requiring a minimum 5-year prison sentence when the victim is a firefighter or EMS provider

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Johnny Tetrick, a 27-year veteran firefighter and father of three, was cleaning up debris from a flipped-over car on I-90 on Nov. 19 when he was struck and killed.

Photo/City of Cleveland

By Jeremy Pelzer

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Less than two weeks after a Cleveland firefighter was killed during a hit-and-run along Interstate 90, Ohio lawmakers are seeking to set a higher minimum prison sentence for drivers who kill firefighters on the road.

Before the Ohio House voted to pass Senate Bill 185 on Thursday, members voted unanimously to add an amendment requiring a minimum 5-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of “aggravated vehicular homicide” in cases where the victim is a firefighter or an emergency medical worker.

Ohio law already has such a requirement in such cases where the victim is a police officer or Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigator.

Johnny Tetrick, a 27-year veteran firefighter and father of three, was cleaning up debris from a flipped-over car on I-90 in Bratenahl on Nov. 19 when he was struck and killed by a Chevrolet Malibu.

Four hours later, police arrested 40-year-old Leander Bissell, who police said they found drunk. Bissell has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and murder, among other charges.

Under current Ohio law, anyone convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide while under the influence faces a mandatory prison term of somewhere between two and eight years, as well as a lifetime driver’s license suspension.

The amendment was brought by two Northeast Ohio House members – Republican state Rep. Tom Patton of Strongsville and Democratic state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney of Cleveland.

Patton, while introducing the amendment on the House floor, said that the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and firefighting officials thought that the 5-year minimum sentence already applied to firefighters.

Sweeney said that while the amendment wouldn’t bring Tetrick back, hopefully his death would spur state lawmakers into “having firefighters’ backs.”

While the House voted unanimously to add the amendment to SB185, the bill itself passed by a 55-22 vote.

SB185, if enacted, would ban police from stopping guns from being sold or carried in areas where a riot is happening or might take place. It would also declare gun stores an “essential business” that can’t be shut down by the state during a declaration of emergency.

Gov. Mike DeWine didn’t include gun stores in his list of businesses he ordered closed during the initial weeks of the coronavirus pandemic emergency last year, but governors in five other states did.

Supporters of SB185 argue the bill recognizes Ohioans’ Second Amendment and self-defense rights and makes state residents safer. Democratic lawmakers opposed to the bill argued Thursday that the bill would strip away cities’ home-rule authority and that it doesn’t make sense to allow people to buy firearms during a riot.

The Ohio Senate voted last year to pass the original version of SB185. However, because the House amended it, the Senate will have to vote again on the revised bill before it heads to DeWine’s desk.


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Jeremy Pelzer covers state government and politics for and The Plain Dealer. Read more of his work here.


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