WARREN - A 20-year-old Youngstown State University student pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge in connection with the Dec. 9 pedestrian accident in Howland that claimed the life of Antoinette Ross.
Patrick Niess of 1535 Edgewood St. N.E. posted a $2,500 bond after appearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, where he was named in a secret indictment. Later, a grand jury handed up the misdemeanor charge and remanded the case to Warren Municipal Court.
Niess faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Assistant county prosecutor Michael Burnett said a Trumbull County grand jury decided the charge against Niess after the case was reviewed by the county Prosecutor's Office.
The case - investigated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol - was presented directly to the grand jury, which, like the investigation, determined Niess hadn't been drinking and was not reckless, nor driving at an extremely high rate of speed.
Instead, grand jurors determined that Niess was negligent and apparently fell asleep at the wheel briefly before his car crashed on King Graves Road, causing the death of Ross, 55, who was walking.
A corner's autopsy ruled that Ross, of Hunt Club Trail, had more than the legal limit of alcohol in her system at the time of her death.
Troopers indicated that Niess apparently fell asleep and drove off the north side of the roadway. He went into a ditch and struck a culvert and traffic sign before coming to a rest some 600 feet west of where Ross' body was discovered the morning of Dec. 9 by a local trash collector.
The patrol said initially they believed Ross was hit by a vehicle between 9 p.m. Dec. 8 and 8 a.m. Dec. 9. Investigators also said they are certain Niess did not realize that he he hit Ross, a former school nursing assistant for Howland Schools.
Niess was wearing a seat belt and suffered no injuries from the accident, officials reported.