21 News Investigates: Deadly Loophole - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

21 News Investigates: Deadly Loophole

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COLUMBIANA COUNTY, Ohio - There's no law in the state of Ohio that prohibits children or anyone else from riding in the rear cargo area of a vehicle.

It's a deadly loophole that cost an 11-year-old girl in Columbiana County her life.

Tragically it happened January 19th.  Calcutta Firefighters James Nign and Meghann Nign were killed, along with 11-year-old passenger Addisyn Benzel of Minerva.  The young girl was thrown from the couple's overcrowded Chevrolet Equinox.  She was sitting in the rear cargo area, where seat belts were not available.

A 21 News Investigation found that there is no law in the state of Ohio that prohibits children or anyone else from riding in the rear cargo area of passenger vehicles. But there is a law prohibiting riding in the open bed of a pick-up truck.  There's also no law addressing occupancy of a vehicle.   In each case, the use of safety restraints are often ignored.

And while there is a seat belt law for children 15 and under, it's a secondary offense, and under Ohio law it's perfectly legal to let someone ride in the cargo area.

Lieutenant Joe Dragovich is the commander of the Lisbon Post of the State Highway Patrol said, "You've got to think of that worst case scenario.   What happens if I'm doing everything right and someone comes left of center and hits me. What's going to happen to the people in my car?"

State Senator Joe Schiavoni tells 21 News, "You don't want to say what if, because it's too late for that.  But you can only move in to the future and try to use this as an example."

"One glaring statistic pops out, and where there's a seat belt available, there's a seat belt not being used, and there's a person dying.  Seat belts save lives," Lt. Dragovich said.

Now, our 21 News Investigation is making change happen.

Senator Schiavoni wants to work with one of the men on the front lines, Lt. Dragovich.  Both hope to lead the way to correct a deadly loophole in the law, and in the end save lives.

"I think we need to start by getting the numbers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and safety forces, and kind of go from there.  Get some idea of what they think would be best practice in this case, and then put legislation together," Senator Schiavoni said.

That proposed law could be in the simplest terms: no more occupants than there are seat belts, and that means no riding in cargo areas.

Senator Schiavoni would like the proposed law to possibly allow State Troopers to ticket people who are backseat passengers if they're not wearing seat belts as well.

A meeting between Senator Schiavoni and Lieutenant Dragovich to discuss the issue is already in the works.

21 News will continue to follow this developing story.

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