ELYRIA — A Grafton man who was behind the wheel in a car crash that killed Midview High School junior Lindsey Rotuno was sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.
Chase Johnson, 19, pleaded guilty to an amended indictment in June in relation to the May 2017 crash on one count of vehicular homicide. He previously had been charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, operating a vehicle under influence of alcohol and/or drug of abuse and two counts of operating a vehicle under influence of a controlled substance.
Johnson was sentenced by Judge Christopher Rothgery, who said the only reason Johnson wasn’t going to prison was because he’d reportedly “put his drug use behind” him.
“That’s the only reason I’m sitting here right now thinking about going along with the agreement here,” Rothgery said. “To be honest with you, the Rotunos are better and stronger people than I am. This is a sentence that if anybody looks at my sentencing history on these cases is nowhere near what would usually happen. Because of their mercy and their ability to forgive, which is almost beyond my comprehension, you’re walking out of here today.”
Rotuno’s mother, Tracie Rotuno, addressed the court prior to the sentencing.
“I know I will never return to the same person I was before,” she said. “It’s been 15 months, and I continue to struggle with the concept of laughter, joy and happiness. There will always be a huge hole inside of me that nothing will ever fill.”
Still, Tracie Rotuno said she has forgiven Johnson.
“Lindsey’s father and I have forgiven Chase with our hearts,” she said. “We have witnessed the depth and genuine pain you’ve endured and will continue to carry on your shoulders because of that tragic night. We are confident with the prosecutor’s office’s decision to move forward with a plea deal and are thankful to not have to endure the pain of a lengthy trial.”
Johnson was given a chance to speak, as well, prior to the sentencing.
“I just want to say to the Rotuno family that I loved Lindsey with all my heart, and I never wanted to see anything bad happen to her,” he said through tears.
While Johnson avoided prison time, Rothgery made it clear that it’s still a possibility if he doesn’t follow through with the probation agreement.
“What I’m trying to get across to you is this: One time, one positive, you’re going to be back in front of me,” Rothgery said. “It won’t go well, sir. I know you have a lot of supporters with her family, your family and others in the community who think a lot of you, but here’s the thing: None of that’s going to help you if you come back in front of me.”
According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, Johnson was the driver of a 2007 Saturn Ion that was traveling westbound on state Route 82 in Eaton Township following an after-prom event when it went into a grassy median at the state Route 57 intersection a little after 3 a.m. May 21, 2017. The vehicle struck two utility poles and came to a stop.
Johnson, who was a senior at Midview at the time of the crash, was wearing a seat belt and was injured, while Lindsey Rotuno, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, received fatal injuries.
Toxicology reports from the crash showed Johnson had about 49.66 nanograms per milliliter of blood of marijuana metabolites in his system. The legal threshold for a driving-under-the-influence charge in Ohio is at least 50 nanograms per milliliter.
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