A 70-year-old Fairlawn woman went to church every Sunday.
She worked in the optical department at a local department store.
And she walked her dog every day.
Ginger Wilson was walking her dog last month when she was struck by an off-duty Fairlawn police officer, landing her in the hospital and then a rehabilitation center. She suffered a traumatic brain injury — and may have lost the ability to do many of the things she enjoyed.
While Wilson’s family is grappling with this dramatic turn in her life, Russell Stouffer, the officer who hit Wilson, pleaded no contest to a traffic violation Wednesday in Akron Municipal Court.
Stouffer, 37, an officer for five years, was found guilty of an improper turn at an intersection, a minor misdemeanor. He paid $205 in fines and court costs in Akron Municipal Court and got two points on his driver’s license. Motorists who get 12 points lose their license.
For Wilson’s family, however, this outcome doesn’t close the case.
“I am pleased that he did the right thing and pled no contest to the charge,” said Thomas Amato, an attorney representing Wilson. Amato's wife is Wilson’s stepdaughter. “The fact remains that Mrs. Wilson incurred severe, traumatic injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, the results of which will not be know for an indefinite time into the future.”
Amato said Wilson will file a civil lawsuit “against all responsible parties.” After Wilson is released from the rehabilitation center, he said, she likely will need 24-hour care.
Larry Whitney, Stouffer’s attorney, said Stouffer’s no-contest plea can’t be used against him in a civil action.
“He has insurance,” Whitney said. “He knows what’s going to happen.”
The accident occurred shortly after 7 a.m. Dec. 12 at Bicentennial Boulevard and Bancroft Road, around the corner from the police station.
Stouffer had just gotten off duty and was driving to his Fairlawn home when he struck Wilson.
The crash occurred in the dark but was captured on a camera mounted at the Fairlawn Fire Department.
Besides the head injury, Wilson also suffered multiple fractures and internal injuries. Her dog wasn’t hurt.
Stouffer wrote in a voluntary statement that he was traveling 5 to 6 miles per hour at the time. He said he didn’t see Wilson before he hit her. Afterward, he stopped, called 911 and helped Wilson until paramedics arrived.
Wilson’s family initially questioned why Stouffer didn’t face more serious charges.
Amato, though, said prosecutors told them the charge that was filed Stouffer had the highest probability of conviction and any other potential charges would also be minor misdemeanors. Minor misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of a $150 fine and carry no jail time.
Stouffer remained on duty after the accident. Fairlawn Chief Don Duman said the sergeant who investigated the accident will look over the disposition of the case and make a recommendation on whether any disciplinary action is warranted. He said they will look at whether any departmental rules were violated.
Duman has said Stouffer is well regarded and his personnel file shows positive evaluations and accolades from the public.
Duman reiterated that he and the rest of the department wishes the best for Wilson in her recovery.
"This is so unfortunate," the chief said. "It really is."
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.