NEWARK — Involuntary manslaughter and aggravated vehicular homicide charges have been filed by Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt’s office against Spencer G. Lorenza, 17, of Johnstown, following events on Sept. 2 that led to the death of Hannah Lea Gattrell.
Lorenza was allegedly involved in an altercation at Utica High School then fled while being pursued by Utica police officers before crashing his vehicle. The complaint includes the following charges:
•One count of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony.
•One count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a third-degree felony.
•One count of failure to comply with the order or signal of a peace officer, a third-degree felony.
•One count of assault, a first-degree misdemeanor.
The prosecutor’s office is also recommending, at a minimum, the suspension of Lorenza’s driving privileges as a condition of any possible release pending final disposition of the charges.
It is not known whether steps can be legally taken to have Lorenza tried as an adult. However, if the case remains in juvenile court, Lorenza could face time in the Department of Youth Services until he is 21 years old.
“While the filings of these charges may bring some small degree of solace to the friends and family of Ms. Gattrell, and perhaps the Utica community as a whole, it must be remembered that these charges, as they currently stand, are merely allegations of criminal conduct, and until proven in a court of law, Mr. Lorenza is presumed innocent,” Oswalt stated in a press release issued Wednesday.
The release goes on to state the investigation concluded that Gattrell entered Lorenza’s vehicle voluntarily; however, “she likely thereafter became an unwilling victim of his decision to flee police.”
Oswalt said he would not try to determine whether or not the police pursuit of Lorenza was warranted, but did say he believed Lorenza’s actions could not be “legally excused” based on what “the police did or did not do that evening.”
“Because in my professional judgment it would have no bearing on Mr. Lorenza’s legal liability, I express no opinion on the decisions surrounding the initiation of, or the continuation of, the pursuit of Mr. Lorenza’s vehicle by Utica police officers except to say this: I do not know if Ms. Gattrell’s death would have happened or not had Utica police not pursued the vehicle. No one can,” Oswalt said. “One must remember, however, that Mr. Lorenza reportedly ignored one or more traffic signs/lights prior to the initiation of the police pursuit — events that had the potential for the same loss of life. Thus there is no reason to know that his driving habits would have ‘improved’ had police not pursued. What I do know is that Ms. Gattrell died as a direct result of what Mr. Lorenza chose to do! It was his behavior that is the known cause of a teenager’s death!”
Lorenza is scheduled for a detention hearing at 1 p.m. today in the Licking County Common Pleas Court Juvenile Division.