PARMA, Ohio — On November 19, Cleveland firefighter Johnny Tetrick was fatally struck by an alleged hit-and-run driver on I-90 while responding to a emergency. It had been 47 years since the Cleveland Division of Fire had held a funeral for one of their own killed in the line of duty.
Just over two weeks after Tetrick's death, the Ohio General Assembly is moving quickly to try to make sure that future similar occurrences result in stiffer punishments.
"The state has come to the conclusion that we need protection as well," says T.J. Martin, the public information officer for the Parma Fire Department.
Martin is talking about protection for firefighters, first responders and EMS workers when it comes to vehicular homicide. A few years ago, a law was passed to protect Ohio state troopers and BCI members. Martin believes it's time for those same measures to be extended to those in his line of work.
Last week, the Ohio House voted to add an amendment to Senate Bill 185 that mandates a five-year minimum sentence on a person convicted of vehicular aggravated vehicular homicide, when the victim is a firefighter or EMT.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Tom Patton and Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, both of whom are from Northeast Ohio.
"It increases the penalties," explains Martin. "It makes it instead of aggravated homicide, it can be classified as a murder charged."
Although nothing in this current action by the Ohio General Assembly will apply to the man who police say killed Tetrick, Martin says this will be a good law. After all, Tetrick was just doing his job when he was hit.
"One time, I was in the scene of a fire," Martin recalled. "I went around to the side of the truck to get a piece of equipment and I had to jump out of the way so they (a motorist) didn't strike me as I was getting equipment out to the truck."
Last week, 40-year-old Leander Bissell was indicted on several charges for his role in Tetrick's death, including murder, felonious assault, and aggravated vehicular homicide. A pretrial hearing is set for Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 9 a.m.
Supporters hope that the legislation featuring the firefighter amendment will be passed into law by Christmas.