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Supporters call for cameras at Ohio's rest areas, saying they could save lives

A rest area on I-71 South near Warren north of Cincinnati, which was renovated in 2018.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A rest area on I-71 South near Warren north of Cincinnati, which was renovated in 2018.

Backers of a bill to put cameras at Ohio’s 85 rest stops said they would prevent human trafficking and improve safety. The bill backed by nearly a quarter of House Democrats was touted in a committee hearing as a potential life saver as well.

In August 2018, Scott Reichard stopped at a rest area on I-77 in Bath Township near Akron, and was beaten by a man who then stole his truck and ran him over.

“Scott was literally at this rest area for less than 6 minutes when all of these events took place and this man abruptly took his life," his widow Joyce Chambers Reichard told lawmakers at a hearing on House Bill 473. "There were only a few people at the rest area that night, and not a single person saw the entire incident - only bits and pieces, because there were no cameras. Investigators had to piece this entire situation together."

Paul Randall Jr. of Dolgeville, NY got a 30-year prison sentence for the attack, but Reichard said because there were no cameras, other crimes might go unsolved.

“He could very well have disappeared just as he intended and would have gotten away with Scott's death," Reichard said. "Sadly, however, many families are left with just that; the loss of a loved one, no one to hold accountable, and many unanswered questions.”

Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova also testified for the bill, saying it could help crack down on human trafficking in Ohio, ranked as the fourth worst state in the nation.

DeGenova said awareness campaigns launched by governments and by truckers can help rescue trafficking victims, but cameras could go a long way toward finding them quickly and eventually prosecuting their kidnappers.

"Camera footage doesn't lie. Surveillance cameras capture events in real time and in an unfiltered form," DiGenova said. "Video recordings add credibility and corroboration to accounts given by human beings and can capture incidents when no one else is around. They fill in blanks where someone's memory may fail or a witness becomes unavailable."

Questions were raised about how long to store video and how to monitor the cameras. DeGenova suggested cameras that would start recording when they sense motion. Reichard suggested staff assigned to clean and maintain rest areas might be enlisted to check them.

Six Democrats have signed on as sponsors to the bill from freshman Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown). No Republicans have signed on. The bill has had two hearings since it was introduced in April.

McNally had initially suggested that installing the cameras could cost more than $35 million. But a state legislative researchers' analysis said there likely won’t be additional costs with the bill, because the Ohio Department of Transportation is already installing cameras at new and renovated rest areas, at a cost of up to $508,000 per rest area. Seven Ohio rest areas have cameras now. Seventeen rest areas are closed for renovations.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau