Suspended drivers face revolving door of justice
- Law enforcement says they have discretion in citing hit & run cases despite Ohio law
- Suspended drivers get behind wheel minutes after courts telling them to stop
- Low amounts of uninsured driver coverage result in thousands in out of pocket expenses.
There are more than 352,000 people on Franklin County roads with suspended licenses. Many of those drivers are dangerous on the roads – crashing into local families while driving with no license and no insurance. Law enforcement and court officials call the situation a “revolving door” of justice, leaving many of these drivers unpunished after multiple times of breaking the law.
LEAVING THE SCENE
Kayla Staup and Josh Detty drove the roundabout on Alkire Road and Demorest November 18, 2016 while heading to their nearby parent’s house. Their 2-year-old was sitting in the back seat. That evening – a car rear-ended them, forcing Staup’s head onto the side windshield.
“I had a lot of head pain, a lot of neck pain. They said I hit my head on the window," recalled Staup.
Detty got out of the car and got a good look at the driver. "We were face to face for maybe 30 seconds."
Three witnesses interviewed by 10 Investigates say after rear-ending the car with Detty and Staup inside, the car, a red Mustang, backed up and nearly hit another car. The Mustang then drove over the concrete median of the roundabout and left the scene of the crash. The three witnesses recorded enough of a license plate number to be able to give a responding Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy
After seeing paramedics, Staup and Detty heard the good news: a Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy found the driver of the car that hit them after matching the license plate and observed damage to the front of the car. The deputy found the car “in the area” of the crash, according to Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, but nowhere is it detailed exactly how far from the crash the Mustang was found.
The driver of the car gave an Ohio driver’s license for 27-year-old Moutasim Emad Abdel Jabar. Moutasim Abdel Jabar has a past criminal record of assault and a suspended license. His license was valid at the time of the crash.
However, in a written statement to the responding deputy, the driver of the Mustang wrote his name down as Montaser, not Moutasim. 25-year-old Montaser Abdel Jabar had a suspended license at the time of the crash according to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, after 14 Franklin County Traffic court convictions.
When shown mugshots and video shot by 10 Investigates of both Moutasim and Montaser Abdel Jabar, three witnesses identify the driver as Montaser Abdel Jabar.
Staup’s and Detty’s relief that the driver who hit them was found turned to frustration. A Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy cited Abdel Jabar for failing to maintain distance, and not for leaving the scene of the crash.
“They cited him for the assured cleared distance for rear-ending us, which isn’t enough. She's in the hospital, my 2-year-old is in the car, and they didn't do anything about it for him taking off like that which is unacceptable,” said Detty.
Ohio BMV records show that Montaser Abdel Jabar did not have insurance on the Mustang at the time of the crash.
Despite the witnesses and a signed statement identifying the driver of the Mustang as Montaser Abdel Jabar, the fine went to Moutasim Abdel Jabar, who paid just more than $200 in court-imposed fines and still maintains his license. Separately, Montaser Abdel Jabar’s license remains suspended.
“It was her discretion at that point to investigate this crash,” replied Franklin County Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert when asked why his deputy did not cite Abdel Jabar for leaving the scene of a crash.
As for the case of mistaken identity of the driver, Chief Deputy Gilbert responded, “It is very common, especially when you have people driving without a proper license to give either their brother's, cousin's or friend’s information, especially if they look in close proximity to that person.”
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office says they would not have cited Abdel Jabar for hit and skip because they caught him within a 24-hour grace period. They tell 10 Investigates in a statement. "If the suspect leaves the scene before law enforcement arrives, they have 24 hours to contact the proper law enforcement agency and report the incident.”
State law does not allow for a 24 hour self-reporting period when a driver hits another on a public road. According to Ohio Revised Code 4549.02, a driver hitting another must stop at the location of the crash on any public roadway. Failure to do so is a 1st-degree misdemeanor unless it results in a “serious injury,” which results in a fifth-degree felony charge.
Ohio Revised Code 4549.021 does allow for a 24 hour self-reporting period for crashes to law enforcement, but only if the crash occurs in a non-public space. That typically means parking lots.
When asked if they follow a similar discretionary policy to Franklin County Sheriff’s Office on citing hit and skip drivers, Columbus Police cited the Ohio Revised Codes as their single guidelines.
“It was a road rage incident which resulted in a hit and skips and he drove off. And now we have ‘we used our discretion’ and "there's a 24 hour grace period in charging them,” said Staup.
10 Investigates observed Montaser Abdel Jabar drive multiple times with a suspended license through January, despite having a suspended license. Montaser Abdel Jabar was observed driving the same Mustang involved in the November crash, matched by identical vehicle identification numbers. 10 Investigates also spotted Moutasim Abdel Jabar drive a different car than the one involved in the crash.
When approached by 10 Investigates after driving to a neighborhood convenience store, Montaser Abdel Jabar denied any wrongdoing.
“I hit no one,” said Abdel Jabar. When asked who was involved in the crash, Montaser replied “my brother.” But when asked why the signed statement from the driver involved in the crash wrote “Montaser Abdel Jabar” as their name and why three witnesses placed him at the scene of the crash driving the same vehicle he was currently driving, Montaser Abdel Jabar replied, “That wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. No idea.” Montaser Abdel Jabar then drove away despite having a suspended license.
THE REVOLVING DOOR OF JUSTICE
Traffic court is where people pay their speeding tickets and other road fines. It's also where people with suspended licenses are summoned after getting caught behind the wheel.
"It's a revolving door of the court system," said Chief Deputy Gilbert. "I'm sure there are individuals who walk out of the courthouse and still get behind the wheel that day, if not right after that hearing. So yeah, it is frustrating."
10 Investigates put that assertion to the test. It observed several days of Franklin County traffic court proceedings and observed multiple cases of suspended drivers getting behind the wheel after being admonished by a magistrate about their suspended license.
One of the suspended drivers, Estanique Jackson, simply rolled her car window up when asked why she was driving with a suspended license minutes after a magistrate’s hearing.
Another driver, Demmion Dunn, had 20 past and current traffic charges, according to court records. Those charges include driving intoxicated.
When asked why he was driving illegally with a suspended license, Dunn replied, “I understand. I just started my car up. I just wanted to make sure I didn't get in any trouble, that's all.” 10 Investigates observed Dunn call another person who drove his vehicle from a courthouse-area parking lot.
The jail would be complaining if we have the jail full of people with no license instead of the assaults and the OVIs,” said Franklin County Chief Municipal Judge Michael Brandt
The fees start building up. Then they get another one. Fees get more and more. It gets to the point where they might have $5,000 in fees they owe to the BMV. There has to be some type of modification of the exorbitant fees that are built up as a result of driving offenses. When you get a driver’s license, they ask, ‘do you have insurance.’ ‘Yes, I've got it.’ They ought to make you show it,” added Judge Brandt.
UNDERINSURED FOR THE UNINSURED
“If you are hit by someone with $12,500 in coverage, you can be sure that as soon as you go to the hospital, you've utilized the vast majority of the coverage,” said personal injury attorney Ashley Starling with Willis & Willis.
Kayla Staup and Josh Detty say the rear-end crash they suffered cost them “a couple thousand dollars out of pocket,” when factoring in their insurance deductible, medical costs, ambulance bill and lost earnings.
Starling advises checking your uninsured motorist coverage to protect against after-crash out of pocket expenses, “
“Heaven forbid you're injured, you've broken something, you can easily run through that type of insurance and be stuck in a position where if you don’t have proper coverage on your side, then, you're really stuck at that cap. At the end of the day, you are only as safe as you are insured; because, really, the best offense is a great defense.”
Matt Kinsall was run over while walking on a sidewalk in Delaware County April 2007.
“He ran me over. He hit 3 cars in the process of this. He was aiming for me,” recalled Kinsall. “I broke my tibia in half, so I've had a couple of bolts on the bottom to hold that in place. I have a plate that runs on my fibula with about eight screws in it,”
The driver who hit Kinsall was uninsured and Kinsall had to pay thousands in out of pocket expenses, despite a court finding in his favor. “I won a settlement for $695,000. I haven't seen a dime of it.”