Driver in deadly church van, train crash pleads guilty

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Frank Schiavone III talks about Judith Ashley's plea in fatal van/train crash

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Middletown woman behind the wheel of a deadly train and church van crash in 2015 has pleaded guilty to felony charges.

Judith Ashley, 65, was in Butler Common Pleas Court on Thursday, where she entered the guilty plea to aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of endangering children, and two counts of vehicular assault.

She faces a maximum of 168 months in prison. Sentencing has been set for Feb. 28.

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Ashley was the driver of a Church of Mayfield van on July 28, 2015, when it collided with a CSX train on 14th Avenue, killing 64-year-old Janice Martin and injuring nine children.

Her trial was scheduled to begin March 30. She was also charged with a higher degree of aggravated vehicular homicide. That charge was merged in exchange for the plea.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said at Ashley’s arraignment that she was reckless because there was sufficient sight distance to see the train with lights flashing and gates down. The higher degree or aggravated vehicular homicide carried the allegation that Ashley was impaired at the time of the accident.

Defense attorney Frank Schiavone III said Ashley was not intoxicated at the time of the accident. She had taken medication prescribed to treat a previous medical condition.

Ashley told Judge Noah Powers on Thursday that she had also taken her prescribed medication before court of Percocet and Vicodin but it did not impair her judgment to enter the plea.

“This was a very difficult morning for Mrs. Ashley as well as ourselves,” Schiavone III said. “She is very, very sorry about what happened here and has accepted responsibility. We want to make it very, very clear that intoxication did not play a part in this matter and she is very, very sorry for what occurred.”

Ashley and Martin had been picking up children for an evening vacation Bible school at the church when the crash occurred.

Martin, of Middletown, died from blunt force trauma to the chest.

The nine children in the van, ages 4-10, were treated and released from Atrium Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, according to the church.

Ashley, who is the wife of church pastor Rev. Gary Ashley, suffered multiple injuries in the crash.

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