An Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper who was hit by a vehicle Wednesday night was showing signs of improvement on Thursday afternoon.
Trooper Brent E. Hill, 26, suffered head trauma and extensive injuries to his leg when he was hit by a car driven by Andrew T. Combs, 22, of Vandalia, while investigating another crash on northbound Interstate 75 near milepost 36.
On Thursday, he was in critical condition but “stable enough to be taken into surgery for his injury to his leg,” according to Lt. Anne Ralston, spokesperson for the OSHP.
“That’s something positive,” Ralston said. “His overall condition appears to be improving somewhat.”
Hill is new to the patrol. He graduated from the 153rd OSHP academy class on Feb. 8 and started at the Lebanon post on Feb. 11, where he was paired with his training officer, Trooper Mike Steele, 48. Hill is a 2005 graduate of Franklin High School.
Steele was with Hill investigating the initial crash. Ralston said the officer field training with a veteran is three months long.
Slick roads and multiple accidents
Just after 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Hill and Steele responded to a one-vehicle crash on northbound Interstate 75 between Ohio 122 and Ohio 123. Victoria L. Zaagman, 20, of West Chester Twp. lost control of her 2001 Dodge Neon. Her vehicle went off the left side of the roadway and struck the cement median wall.
Zaagman and her passenger, Hanna J. Cox, 19, also of West Chester Twp., were not injured, and the vehicle sustained disabling damage. Zaagman’s blood alcohol content was .049. She was arrested for failure to maintain reasonable control and for operating a vehicle after underage consumption.
Hill was out of the police cruiser investigating when a 1996 Buick Riviera driven by Combs slid on the snowy roadway. The Riviera went off the left side of the roadway, sideswiped the trooper’s patrol car, and struck Hill and Zaagman’s Neon.
No other injuries were reported. Attempts to reach Combs Thursday were unsuccessful.
Ralston said there are no indications that alcohol was a factor in Combs’ crash. Combs was cooperative with investigators, and he was released, pending further investigation. No charges have been filed against Combs.
“We are still working on determining exactly why Mr. Combs lost control of his vehicle,” Ralston said. “My understanding was that the road conditions were snowy at the time, but obviously we’re still looking into what was the contributing factor.”
Hill was transported to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, then transferred to Miami Valley’s Trauma Center.
Northbound I-75 was closed for nearly five hours due to the accidents.
Surrounded by family and friends
Hill’s family and fellow troopers were at Miami Valley Hospital on Thursday throughout the day, Ralston said.
“Our primary concern at this point in time is the recovery and care of Trooper Hill,” Ralston said. “In addition to that, we are committed to completing a thorough investigation of how this crash happened.”
In the latest figures available, 53 officers were killed accidentally while performing their duties in 2011, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The majority — 30 — were killed in automobile accidents. The 2011 number was down 19 from the 2010 total of 72 officers.
Ralston said statewide numbers involving troopers or cruisers being struck alongside the road were not immediately available.
“Yes, these kinds of crashes happen from time to time where a cruiser gets sideswiped, rear-ended or something like this, unfortunately,” she said. “Our primary concern is officer safety. We go through extensive training at the academy, through the field training period and throughout a career.
“We want our officers to be as safe as possible when they handle every crash and traffic stop. It’s where we spend our career — alongside the road.”
In 2011, 53 officers were killed accidentally while performing their duties, with the majority — 30 officers — killed in automobile accidents.
The number of accidental line-of-duty deaths was down 19 from the 2010 total (72 officers).