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Family of girl killed in prom night car crash files suit

  • Chase-Johnson-3-jpg

    Chase Johnson appears at his sentencing in the accident that caused the death of Lindsey Rotuno, at Lorain County Justice Center Aug. 15.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE FILE

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ELYRIA — The family of Lindsey Rotuno, the Midview High School junior killed in a car crash on prom night in 2017, has filed a lawsuit against the driver’s father and insurance company.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Rotuno’s estate is against State Farm and Charles Johnson Jr., the father of Chase Johnson, who was driving the car in which Rotuno died, according to court documents filed in Lorain County Common Pleas Court Thursday.

According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, Chase Johnson, 19, of Grafton, was the driver of a 2007 Saturn Ion that was traveling westbound on state Route 82 in Eaton Township after an after-prom event when it went into a grassy median at the state Route 57 intersection a little after 3 a.m. May 21, 2017. The vehicle struck two utility poles.

Chase Johnson, who was a senior at Midview at the time of the crash, was wearing a seat belt and was injured, while Rotuno, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was fatally injured.

Toxicology reports from the crash showed Johnson had about 49.66 nanograms per milliliter of blood of marijuana metabolites in his system. The legal threshold for a driving-under-the-influence charge in Ohio is at least 50 nanograms per milliliter.

The lawsuit alleges that Chase Johnson was not a trusted driver and should not have been driving his father’s vehicle the night of the crash.

“At the time (Charles) Johnson entrusted the aforesaid motor vehicle to his son, Chase Johnson, defendant Johnson knew or should have known that his son Chase Johnson was not a responsible driver and specifically on May 20, 2017, knew that Chase Johnson should have not been entrusted to drive a motor vehicle,” the suit said.

About six hours later, Chase Johnson lost control of the car and crashed, the suit said.

“The death of the decedent and damage to her statutory beneficiaries was directly caused by the negligence of defendant Johnson entrusting his motor vehicle to his son Chase,” the suit said.

The lawsuit also said State Farm claims that the insurance policy Charles Johnson had on the vehicle “has exclusions which excludes coverage for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle by the defendant.” But the suit says the exclusionary language does not apply to Chase Johnson since he was “insured under the terms of the aforesaid policy” as a member of Charles Johnson’s home and a resident of his household.

The insurance policy provides a $300,000 limit of coverage for the homeowner liability for negligence, the suit said.

In August, Chase Johnson was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide in connection with the crash that killed Rotuno.

Judge Christopher Rothgery told Johnson at the time of sentencing that the only reason he didn’t receive prison time was because of the Rotuno family’s “mercy and their ability to forgive.”

Contact Scott Mahoney at (440) 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.


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