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Copyright 2005 The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

August 2, 2005 Tuesday, Home Final Edition



A drunken driver who killed a police officer when he plowed into her cruiser will become the first in Franklin County to be sentenced under a law for killing an officer in a crash.

Jacob Harper, 32, of Buckeye Lake, pleaded guilty yesterday to aggravated vehicular homicide and will be sentenced Monday in Common Pleas Court.

The sentence for the crime is a minimum of two years in prison up to a maximum of eight years. Because Harper killed Officer Melissa M. Foster, he will be sentenced to at least five years on top of what Judge John F. Bender chooses.

It was the first time the law applied in Franklin County since it was enacted in June 2004. The bill was proposed after the death in November 2001 of State Highway Patrol Trooper Frank G. Vazquez, who was also killed by a drunken driver.

With his guilty plea to aggravated vehicular homicide, Harper lost all driving privileges for life. He is in the county jail.

Foster, 35, had been a police officer for seven years. She had two children -- Elaine Foster Thornton, 4, and Owen Foster Hickey, 2 -- who are now living with their fathers. The men and Foster's parents attended the hearing yesterday.

Outside the courtroom, Robert Thornton, Elaine's father, commented on the mandatory five-year prison term.

"It will help the family with the healing process," he said. "There's never going to be enough time for a sentence like this."

Foster was driving south on Gender Road in a police cruiser about 1 a.m. Dec. 4, responding to a report of a possible burglary, when Harper, driving north, swerved left of the center line, Assistant County Prosecutor Donald Miller said. Harper missed two other cars, including another police cruiser, before crashing into Foster's cruiser near Wright Road.

Accident investigators estimated his speed at 77 mph in a 45-mph zone, Miller said.

Foster was dead on arrival at Grant Medical Center. A police sergeant, Timothy Peters, was driving in front of Foster en route to the same call and swerved into a berm to avoid Harper's pickup. A Fairfield County deputy sheriff was following Harper, having seen his speeding truck pass two northbound cars just before the crash with Foster.

Harper refused a field blood-alcohol test, but hospital work showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.125 percent. In Ohio, a driver is considered drunk with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent.

Harper had been convicted of drunken driving in 1995 in Licking County, and he served three years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 1996. In that case, Harper fatally shot his stepfather, Bill Glaub, during an argument.

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